TRPA listens but still says no
For a governing board that considers a $900 million Environmental Improvement Program, a Metropolitan Planning Organization status and similar big projects, even issues which may be considered “smaller” can create tough decisions.
That is what happened at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s regular board meeting Wednesday.
The board considered a request for a stay of permit filed by South Lake Tahoe residents Jaymee Willison, Arthur Evans, a group called Save Our Views and their attorney Rachelle J. Nicolle.
Willison wanted to stop the permit for a single-family dwelling rebuild on Lakeview Avenue that has already been torn down, claiming TRPA staff erroneously allowed an extra 999 square feet of coverage on the lot, failed to require a scenic simulation to study the impact the building would have and failed to consider the impacts to the bike path at the area.
The board of governors denied the appeal, but several members indicated the decision was difficult.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this whole situation,” said Jerome Waldie, California Senate Rules Committee appointee.
On Sept. 2, TRPA granted a permit for the project, allowing for demolition of the existing house and for the construction of a new house. On Sept. 4, the notice of appeal was filed by Willison and the other appellants. Demolition continued, and afterward the stay was temporarily granted.
Nicolle said the permit holders had the option of stopping demolition because they knew the appeal was being filed.
Willison lives across the street from the property, and claimed the new house would block her view of the lake. However, she said it also disrupts others’ views, including bikers and neighbors.
“This isn’t about me, and this isn’t about my view,” she told the governing board. “This is about everyone who has stopped and enjoyed that view.”
Willison said she formed Save Our Views because of this project and said 153 members have joined.
Nicolle claimed that a 1980s document showed the property was allowed to have 2,159 square feet of coverage. The current permit allows 3,249 square feet of coverage.
“Are we going to assume our staff from the 1980s was incompetent?” she said.
Nicolle claimed denying the stay would set a bad precedent for TRPA, showing that any landowner in the basin could ask for more land coverage on their property.
However, several board members said the situation was more of a policy issue. They agreed the appeal raised questions which should be addressed but felt they shouldn’t stop the process that already had started.
“Technically, the rules were followed,” said Mara Bresnick, California Assembly Speaker appointee. “I think the staff did the best job they could.”
Before the board decided, Waldie said Willison did the right thing by bringing the issue to the board.
“This lady did the board a great service, whatever way this goes,” he said.
Afterward, Nicolle said Willison and the other appellants had the option of filing an injunction in federal or state court to stop the process. She said they would be considering that option.
Willison said she appreciated the board’s consideration of the issue.
“Even though they voted against the stay, they did hear what I had to say,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that they want to address the view corridor issue.”
Other items addressed at the TRPA meeting included:
n TRPA staff presented an update on the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Based on what the MPO working group has come up with, the Tahoe MPO board will be made up of the 14 voting members of the TRPA governing board and one representative from the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Also, a Tahoe Transportation Commission will be created, made up primarily of members of the Tahoe Transportation District members.
The TTC would serve as a management team for developing projects and providing direction for the strategies and the use of funds. Also, the commission will be the forum for residents, public agencies and others to comment on transportation plans.
By creating the TMPO, Lake Tahoe would be able to compete with other western urban areas for federal money.
Lake Tahoe could receive, each year, an estimated minimum of $200,000 for transportation planning and $500,000 for transportation projects.
Millions of dollars are potentially available.
Both governors of California and Nevada and local government agencies representing at least 75 percent of the affected population must approve the MPO.
n TRPA staff presented an update on the Environmental Improvement Program, highlighting the idea that an “integration team” will need to be established in order to make sure projects are carried out.
“We need to operate as a team, if we’re going to generate $900 million,” said Jim Baetge, TRPA executive director.
The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit supported the idea.
“There needs to be a place where all of us can come to coordinate our efforts so there is no overlapping each other,” said Juan Palma, LTBMU forest supervisor, to the board.
n The governing board directed TRPA staff to go forward with an Environmental Assessment rather than an Environmental Impact Statement for the construction of the gondola at Heavenly Ski Resort.
Because an EIS was completed for the Heavenly master plan, which includes the gondola project, Heavenly representatives argued that another one is not necessary.
As part of the E.A. process, TRPA staff can determine whether an EIS needs to be completed.
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