Workshop studies TRPA building regulations
An Individual Parcel Evaluation System workshop was held during the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s monthly meeting last week, and the only conclusion the governing board came to was it needed more data before making a decision on whether or not lower the threshold in California.
The IPES is the way the TRPA determines if an individual lot in the Tahoe Basin is buildable. Each lot is evaluated based on “relevant criteria,” such as soil, slope, rainfall, proximity to lake, water quality improvements, and given an overall score. If that score is below the IPES line, than that lot is considered unbuildable.
Currently, the IPES line is 539 in Washoe County and 672 in Douglas County. It is 725 for Placer and El Dorado counties in California. When the IPES evolved, the idea was the line would drop as each jurisdiction (county) met certain criteria. The criteria includes demonstrating that progress is being made on capital improvements for water quality and “retiring” of lots.
One of the criteria is meeting the vacant lot equation, which is the requirement that the number of parcels with IPES score below the line (725 in Placer County), divided by the number of parcels deemed sensitive cannot exceed a specific percentage set by the TRPA (20 percent in California). In 1988, the status of the vacant lot equation for Placer County was 54 percent. For El Dorado County it was 30 percent. The goal behind the IPES was to get the number down to 20 percent in California counties, so some members of the TRPA are concerned that California counties are not “retiring” enough lots and are still years away from meeting the vacant lot equation benchmark.
The IPES line has been lowered in Nevada for the past five years, while it has remained the same for California counties since the mid-1980s. Thus, people in California looking to build on a lot in the Tahoe Basin that contains a score less than 725 are pushing for the line to drop.
“The Nevada line has come down, but in California it remains at 725,” said Gabby Barrett, a TRPA staff member. “The major holdup is the equation and the percent. We agreed that if ‘X’ amount of lots are retired and the percent criteria is met, the line will go down. At the current rate, it will be 11 more years until the line goes down in Placer and five more years for El Dorado.”
While the fact that California counties are not meeting the criteria in a timely manner to get the line to drop, some have questioned the numbers and the IPES all together.
“This is not based on the denominator or the numerator,” said Larry Hoffman of the Tahoe Preservation Council, referring to the vacant lot equation. “This is based on a threshold that has already been reached.”
According to Hoffman, California counties have met the number of “retired” lots, and that the vacant lot equation is being used incorrectly.
“I think a whole lot has been fulfilled. What went wrong was with the math. The target back then was 333 lots and that was achieved in 1989 by Placer County and in 1993 by El Dorado County,” Hoffman said. “What the policy attempted to achieve is all happening.”
After more and more questions continued to spring up, most members of the board determined that a concise database was needed before any more discussion on the matter should continue. It was recommended that the exact number of lots and the type of each lot be determined in each county, because some lots are so small that owners may not even know they own them. Another problem is that lot owners may not want to sell or develop their property, meaning the number of lots that can be legitimately “retired” are extremely low (retired lots occur primarily through acquisitions and transfers of development).
In the end, the board directed the staff to conduct a study to gather accurate data to find out the number of parcels and owners in question. The governing board plans to return to the item in August.
“This is the TRPA, we should be able to get a handle on this,” Hoffman concluded.
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