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June 8, 2010 > Sides differ on 'sustainable Tahoe' development

Sides differ on 'sustainable Tahoe' development

AP Wire Service
By Jeff DeLong
Reno Gazette-Journal

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. (AP), Jun 05 - Redevelopment of aging, polluting urban areas will prove critical to restoring Lake Tahoe's troubled environment in coming decades, Tahoe land-use regulators insist.

Environmental groups counter that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency appears to be on a path that could substantially alter the lake's rustic characteristics, bringing taller buildings and denser development.

The emerging debate comes as TRPA, established by Congress in 1969 to save an endangered national treasure, prepares a new strategy guiding land use for the next 20 years.

Both sides agree the stakes are high.

``Today's new focus - the need for environmental
redevelopment,'' Joanne Marchetta, the agency's executive director,
told TRPA governors during a lengthy discussion recently.

In many ways, that direction will serve as the heart of the agency's new regional plan, expected to be adopted late next year, Marchetta said. It will be the first regional plan approved for the Tahoe Basin since 1987.

Proposed land-use strategies could include removal of old and blighted buildings - often built long ago on sensitive land - and construction of clustered development accommodating pedestrians, mass transit and including substantial improvements to treat polluted runoff and achieve other environmental targets.

Examples of what TRPA has in mind include the planned urban overhaul of downtown Kings Beach. Another is the proposed demolition of Crystal Bay's Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino and construction of the Boulder Bay development - a 300-room hotel with shops, restaurants and a health and wellness center. Boulder Bay developers described the project, which would substantially improve treatment of urban runoff into Lake Tahoe, as a needed ``reinvention'' of the Biltmore property.

Such projects, TRPA officials insisted, can simultaneously help achieve environmental milestones and boost Tahoe's economy.

``We actually have to proactively fix what's on the ground today if we want to stop pollutants,'' Marchetta said. ``The proposal today is about allowing a sustainable Tahoe.''

Critics, while acknowledging that the upgrade of blighted areas is important, said they have doubts.

``Yes, get ready for TRPA's new refrain: 'Build, baby, build,''' Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, wrote in an opinion column recently submitted to regional newspapers.

In a May 21 letter to TRPA's governing board, representatives of eight conservation organizations wrote of their concern over policy that could bring new buildings four to six stories high to Tahoe's communities.

``If the plan is successful, the look and feel of many Lake Tahoe communities will change dramatically to that of a much more urbanized setting,'' the groups wrote.

They said they ``strongly oppose'' bringing redevelopment of the type that has worked well in South Lake Tahoe - Tahoe's most urbanized area.

North Tahoe resident George Koster said the agency is pursuing a ``culture of yes'' with regard to development. He's skeptical that the agency's priorities match those of environmentalists.

``This strikes me as fanciful as saying Wall Street would do nothing to harm the economy,'' Koster said. ``Now, apparently, the future of Lake Tahoe must pay.''

Marchetta argued that TRPA's plans will move development from areas where it harms the environment to places it is more compatible. Much of the criticism by environmental groups is ``confused'' and off base, she said.

``The policy is not about 'build, baby, build,''' Marchetta said. ``We're not proposing skyscrapers. We're not suggesting high-rises.''

The regional plan will play a pivotal role in meeting TRPA's long-term efforts to reach environmental targets in water and air quality, wildlife habitat, scenic protection and other areas. The 40-year-old agency has thus far failed to achieve goals in many of these areas.

A central endeavor is to restore Tahoe's famed clarity, which has diminished about 30 percent since one could see more than 100 feet into the lake's depths in the late 1960s.

Experts have determined fine, suspended sediments contained in runoff entering the lake must be reduced by at least 55 percent to restore historic clarity levels. An early goal of a 32 percent reduction over 15 years is believed necessary to achieve a 10-foot clarity improvement.

Environmentalists argue TRPA's land-use strategy is inconsistent with the need to meet environmental targets.

Marchetta countered that the agency's strategy to redevelop polluting urban areas is the only way to go. Otherwise, she said, ``little or perhaps nothing is going to happen.''

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

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