Report Points to Environmental Importance of Improving Tahoe Basin Lodging

Published on February 26, 2015

The North Lake Tahoe communities of Kings Beach and Tahoe City have not had any new or upgraded lodging properties in more than 50 years. Many of the existing lodging properties are outdated and do not provide the overnight visitor with the experience they seek. While Lake Tahoe has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, the age, condition and limited peak-season availability of its current lodging supply makes it difficult to compete with other mountain resort destinations.

However, county staff, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, undertook a study to look at what are the impediments to new lodging and commercial development in the Tahoe Basin and what steps can be done to improve the process and encourage investment in North Lake Tahoe.

The study, presented to the Board on Tuesday, points out reasons why building new lodging development and redevelopment in the Tahoe basin can be much more costly than elsewhere in the region. It also points to process improvements and actions the county can undertake to improve and expedite development.

The report also contains five stand-alone analyses, including a review of existing demographic and community conditions, analysis of existing regulatory process and development constraints, development analysis, potential incentive funding sources, and more detailed analysis on possible financial incentive tools.

“The improvement of Lake Tahoe’s environment is closely tied to the improvement of its existing development in the downtown communities,” said Jennifer Merchant, Deputy County Executive Officer. “By improving our overnight offerings and concentrating them in the town centers, we create a more desirable destination, which enables us to remove old, blighted development and restore the environmentally sensitive areas where they are located back to their natural state.”

Both Kings Beach and Tahoe City are Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA)-designated town centers, areas that concentrate development within the town center rather than in urban sprawl. The town centers promote mixed use development including lodging, retail, restaurants, office space and commercial. This concept creates environmental improvements by building walkable communities that reduce vehicle trips and improve aesthetics by removing blighted properties. Motor vehicle exhaust is a key pollutant that finds its way into the lake and denigrates clarity.

The study also suggests the county embark on other efforts that will help facilitate the town center concept for these two North Lake Tahoe communities. The report calls for the county to streamline the development process by working to streamline its own land development processes, and to also work with the other regulatory agencies in the basin. This effort will avoid duplicate submissions and enable the county to serve as a single point of contact for projects.

Another suggested action already underway in the county is the acquisition of more Tourist Accommodation Units (TAU) to be banked for development use. Any new lodging project must have a TAU for each of its accommodation units. By acquiring a specific number existing TAU from older developments built in sensitive environmental areas, the county stands to increase the actual number of TAU through a 3:1 multiplier. By retiring development in sensitive areas that will be restored and then using those units in town centers, Placer County can be awarded additional TAU.

On another item at Tuesday’s meeting, the Board approved the expenditure of $1,557,850 for the acquisition of the A&A Motel in South Lake Tahoe. The property’s 34 TAU will translate into 104 TAU as the complex was built in a stream environment zone. These TAU will be banked by Placer County for future use.

Placer County is currently working on an update of its own regional plan and tailoring the plan to mesh with TRPA’s regional plan. That plan calls for environmental improvements in town center development, which will create economic benefits.

Currently, 42 percent of visitors to Placer County’s portion of Lake Tahoe come on day trips. However, 86 percent of visitor spending comes from overnight stays. Improving town centers has a triplicate benefit: environmental improvement, improvement of lodging aging properties and increased visitor stays. The latter helps fund the first two.

The study also identifies a need for parking solutions. Each development must show it has the requisite number of parking spaces. With limited available land that can be used for parking lots, the report suggests the county use creative solutions and assist development in solving the parking issue. The report suggests the county consider shared parking, centralized parking, in-lieu fees, parking structures and peak time-of-use analysis as possible solutions. The report also says that the use of public financing to offset parking acquisition costs should be explored.

The report represents information gleaned from business and development community stakeholders and regulatory partners. After presenting the report to the Board, staff requested that the Board direct staff to complete a business plan for the county’s portion of the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.