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Vote set on long-range Lake Tahoe development plan

Updated Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 | 6:51 p.m.

STATELINE — After nearly a decade of debate, Lake Tahoe land-use regulators are prepared to take action on a sweeping plan that will guide development for decades to come at the Sierra gem.

The bi-state Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's governing board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposed plan for the lake straddling the California-Nevada border.

Business interests contend the plan represents a long-overdue overhaul of burdensome regulations that will jump-start Tahoe's ailing tourism economy while protecting its environment. Supporters say it would provide consistent rules needed by developers to make investments in the area and provide incentives to move development from sensitive land into existing urban areas.

Such incentives are crucial to redeveloping aging properties that do little for the economy but harm the environment by creating storm-water runoff to the lake. Urban runoff carries fine sediment and algae-promoting nutrients linked to Tahoe's declining clarity.

The plan also would give local governments a greater role in land-use decisions.

"I believe the regional plan represents a positive change in direction that is science driven and will deliver sound environmental benefits," attorney Lew Feldman, who has represented Tahoe business interests, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

But Laurel Ames, of the Tahoe chapter of the Sierra Club, maintained it would be a "radical plan" that will harm Tahoe's environment by allowing too much development, as well as overly dense, taller urban growth.

"There are definitely things that need to be done but increasing (land) coverage, increasing density and increasing height interferes with scenic views," Ames said.

It's questionable whether the plan will improve the lake's clarity, she said, and it's "very difficult" to reconcile the plan with many of Tahoe's main environmental goals.

Kyle Davis, political director of the Nevada Conservation League, said he views the plan as a compromise.

"There's a lot we don't like about it. There's a lot that is an improvement," he told the Gazette-Journal. "I think there are enough safeguards to protect the lake, but I think there is a lot more that could have been put in place for environmental gain."

TRPA was established by Congress in 1969 to protect Tahoe from runaway development. Its last regional plan was approved in 1987.

"Like any plan, it is only a path to a promising future, but it is the essential foundation for the next environmental step forward," said Joanne Marchetta, executive director of TRPA.

Public funding for Tahoe environmental improvement projects will be increasingly difficult to come by in the future, she said, and a new regulatory approach encouraging private investment is needed to redevelop run-down urban areas around the lake.

TRPA is set to take final action on the development plan when it meets in Stateline.

Conflict over the plan helped spur the 2011 Nevada Legislature to pass legislation that would pull the state out of TRPA in 2015 if — among other demands — the plan is not in place.

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