By Jim Lawrence and Bill Yeates
This September and October, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Governing Board will move forward with hearings and final milestone decisions on two significant initiatives: A new Shoreline Plan and an overhaul of the agency’s transferable development rights system.
TRPA will hold hearings for both these initiatives at the Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26, and could hold final votes on them as early as Wednesday, Oct. 24.
The Governing Board set these two strategic initiatives as top priorities for TRPA back in 2015, along with other ongoing initiatives focused on
improving forest health and community wildfire preparedness, fighting aquatic invasive species, and upgrading Lake Tahoe’s transportation system and transit services.
For two years, TRPA has been working closely with many stakeholder partners and the public through highly-collaborative planning processes to see these initiatives through to completion.
Shoreline regulations have long been a controversial and seemingly insurmountable planning area at Lake Tahoe. Multiple attempts to update them have failed. Through a collaborative planning process with partners around the lake, there is now a proposed Shoreline Plan that would update TPRA’s shoreline regulations for the first time in decades. TRPA and its partners have been working together to ensure the plan will benefit the environment along Tahoe’s shoreline and improve recreation access, safety, and experiences on the lake.
The proposed Shoreline Plan creates development caps and regulations for a limited number of new shoreline structures such as piers, buoys, and public boat ramps, as well as a framework for marinas to expand or reconfigure if they incorporate environmental improvements.
The plan would also create a range of new shoreline programs needed to address the environmental effects of new activity under the plan. These programs would be paid for through fees on moorings, boat stickers, and boat rental concessions that TRPA and its planning partners are working to apportion fairly to various shoreline users and structures.
The programs include better boater education and enforcement of the 600-foot no-wake zone, an expansion of the no-wake zone to include all Emerald Bay, and new no-wake buffer zones for swimmers, paddlers, and shoreline structures; all aimed at reducing boating noise impacts and improving recreation safety on the lake. But the new programs also include better monitoring for noise and scenic impacts, additional projects to control harmful aquatic invasive species, enforcement of unauthorized moorings on the lake, and new provisions to keep loud boats with aftermarket exhaust systems that exceed noise standards from operating on the lake.
The development rights initiative would mark the first major overhaul of Lake Tahoe’s unique transferable development rights system in years, including the commercial floor area, tourist accommodation units, and residential units of use that are needed for any development project in the Tahoe Basin to proceed. This complex system was put in place to cap total development potential at Tahoe and stop the runaway development that once threatened the region’s natural environment.
Under proposed changes put forward by the Development Rights Working Group, which includes partners in both the development and environmental communities, those caps on total development potential in the Tahoe Basin would be maintained. But the proposal would allow conversions among various development rights, whereby commercial floor area could be converted into residential housing or tourist lodging uses, and vice versa, and transferred more easily across local government boundaries in the Tahoe Basin.
The goal is to make Lake Tahoe’s development rights system more flexible and easier to navigate to help investors accelerate redevelopment projects in town centers that benefit the environment, create more vibrant communities and greater opportunities for more workforce housing, and implement the goals of the 2012 Regional Plan.
Both initiatives have been major undertakings for TRPA and its partners. Their adoption would mark a major milestone for all our work to conserve and restore Lake Tahoe’s natural environment, revitalize communities, and improve the world-renowned public recreation opportunities the region affords.
Progress on such difficult issues shows that collaboration is very much alive and well in the Tahoe Basin, and that a wide array of local, state, federal, and private partners are all invested in working together to protect Lake Tahoe’s environment and make the region a better place to live, recreate, and invest. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these initiatives as we approach our role in making important final decisions on them.
Jim Lawrence is chair of the TRPA Governing Board. Bill Yeates is vice chair.