Douglas County is one step closer to having more control over its slice of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
On Tuesday, planning commissioners unanimously approved a master plan amendment and three separate zoning text amendments that incorporate the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s regional plan update, approved in December, and the South Shore Area Plan, which is specific to Douglas County’s most vital economic engine.
“We want to make this a recreation destination,” said county planner Brandy McMahon, who also serves on the TRPA advisory planning commission. “We want to concentrate development in the town centers in order to protect other areas and preserve open space.”
Planning commissioners acknowledged the complexity of the overhaul. The Lake Tahoe Basin has long been a regulatory puzzle.
In 2011, Nevada lawmakers passed a bill that threatened to pull out from the bi-state compact if regulatory changes weren’t made.
In 2012, the TRPA passed the new regional plan, the first update since 1987, and in doing so allowed local governments to establish “area plans.”
In regulatory terms, the area plans would embody the TRPA’s goals and policies but cede actual permitting to local governments.
For example, through a memorandum of understanding with the agency, Douglas County would take on permitting responsibilities for residential construction in the South Shore Area Plan.
The county would not have complete autonomy, however, as the TRPA must first approve the area plan and then ensure compliance with an environmental checklist.
Furthermore, some major projects would trigger additional review by the agency.
Developed by county commissioners, staff, Design Workshop and other stakeholders, the South Shore Area Plan stretches from the literal state line on Highway 50 to lower Kingsbury Grade and replaces the county’s Stateline and Kingsbury community plans, which were adopted in 1993.
Besides changing development code and design criteria, the amendments passed Tuesday designated approximately 667.5 acres as tourist/high density tourist zoning (Stateline) and as mixed used/town center zoning (Kingsbury Grade). They also designated roughly 500 acres of Edgewood property as either resort recreation or recreation zoning.
McMahon said the South Shore Area Plan will allow existing casino towers to be redeveloped at their current height, around 200 feet, and will provide more public access to beaches in the area.
The big wildcard in the planning process, however, is litigation. The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore recently filed suit in federal court challenging the TRPA’s regional plan update.
On Tuesday, Laurel Ames, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra club, argued that the area plan process lacks adequate environmental analysis.
“TRPA’s conformity checklist appears to simply restate requirements and asks area plan applicants to say yes or no, but provides no meaningful explanation of how area plans conform,” she wrote in a letter to the planning commission, signed by two other plaintiffs. “What happens with the litigation will affect the area plans, and we recommend the local governments keep this in mind as they expend significant time, energy, and public dollars to continue these processes.”
The threat of legal entanglements has some worried that later inclusion of Roundhill, Zephyr Cove and other areas outside the South Shoe boundaries will not happen.
“If anything holds up the first area plan, it delays the entire area,” said Gary Midkiff of Midkiff & Associates, Inc.
McMahon said staff was directed to tackle the South Shore Area Plan first before additional phases.
“If litigation is filed, we’ll deal with it at that time,” she said.
County commissioners are scheduled to review the amendments for a first reading in May.