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Local News

Changes to Tahoe development spur lawsuit 


Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
February 12, 2024

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency violated its half-a-century old federal compact prohibiting development that would jeopardize Lake Tahoe’s environment and the safety of residents and visitors, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in California. 

In December, the TRPA approved amendments to its development code that allow increased density and reduced parking requirements, in areas near the shoreline and within areas with a high risk of fire hazard. The TRPA, at the last minute of a rushed process, slashed requirements for affordable housing units in favor of options that are more attractive to developers, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit was filed by Mountain Area Preservation (MAP), an environmental non-profit group made up of Tahoe residents. The organization alleges the amendments approved by the TRPA violate the federal compact that prohibits development beyond the area’s carrying capacity – regional environment thresholds designed to protect the lake. 

The Compact, passed by Congress in 1969 to protect Lake Tahoe from overdevelopment, requires TRPA to establish a regional environmental threshold carrying capacity, which it defines as “an environmental standard necessary to maintain a significant scenic, recreational, educational, scientific or natural value of the region or to maintain public health and safety within the region. Such standards shall include but not be limited to standards for air quality, water quality, soil conservation, vegetation preservation and noise.”

“For those of us who are workforce housing advocates and understand the complexities of building in Lake Tahoe, I have to say there’s nothing innovative about the amendments,” MAP executive director Alexis Ollar said in an interview. “They are market solutions with city urban planning. Tahoe is not a city. And when half of our housing stock right now is used for vacation rentals, there are other innovative ways if we really are tackling this housing crisis to get the local workforce in our existing housing stock.” 

TRPA executive director Julie Regan said in a statement Friday the affordable housing crisis “is impacting Lake Tahoe’s environment and communities. Creating more affordable housing while protecting our incredible environment is a high priority of the TRPA Governing Board, partner agencies, community members, and the agency itself.”

The agency says it had not been served with the suit but learned about it via a news release. 

“The policies are intended to encourage more affordable and workforce housing in limited areas of the Lake Tahoe Region consistent with TRPA’s strict development caps and environmental standards,” Regan said. 

The amendments place not only the environment in peril, but people and wildlife, too, by exacerbating the threat of wildfire in an area already congested with traffic, the suit alleges. 

The lawsuit alleges the TRPA failed to perform an environmental assessment before approving the amendments. The agency has said in the past that it is permitted to rely on an environmental study from 2012, given a lack of substantial changes in the area’s conditions.  

MAP contends Tahoe has grown since 2012 and environmental conditions have deteriorated. 

Regan of the TRPA says the agency’s “regular monitoring of environmental conditions in the Tahoe Basin tells us that although the demand for outdoor recreation is changing, the number of cars, visitors, and residents has changed very little over the last decade. Transportation improvements are needed in our busiest recreation corridors to address changing recreation travel patterns.”

MAP asserts the TRPA attempted a bait and switch in an effort to gain approval for the changes. 

 “By providing members of the public with an incorrect and misleading version of the Amendments, TRPA sowed confusion amongst the public, including local counties and cities, about what changes the Governing Board actually adopted, and precluded an accurate public understanding of the effect of the Amendments,” the suit says. 

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This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.