Tahoe cannot afford another big hotel binge

Mar 21, 2011:
By Carl Young, League program director
Reno Gazette-Journal
Mar 21, 2011

UPDATE: This project was approved by the TRPA board in April, 2011.

Tahoe is headed for another big hotel binge.

On Wednesday, regulators plan to vote on Boulder Bay, a project to give the Tahoe Biltmore hotel-casino a "facelift" by tripling its rooms and erecting dozens of high-end condos. Seven new tall buildings will tower over Crystal Bay, while the project's floor area will swell to over four times the size of the old Biltmore.

These expansions will only be possible if the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency permanently changes its rules, opening the door for more questionable projects down the road.

And there are already plenty in the pipeline.

On the South Shore, Edgewood Golf Course aims to build a large resort several hundred yards from the shoreline. The city of South Lake Tahoe plans to allow for more than 100 acres of six-story condos.

On the West Shore, Homewood Mountain Resort wants to build an all-season resort with several hundred condo and hotel units that will worsen area traffic.

Why this change of appetite?

The TRPA is trying to encourage redevelopment and rightly wants Tahoe's older properties to install long-overdue measures to protect water quality. However, the agency is overcompensating by offering excessive development rights, creating a host of environmental trade-offs.

Tahoe needs redevelopment, not overdevelopment.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe supports the revitalization of Tahoe's communities in ways that comply with long-standing rules to protect the lake.

Redevelopment can help the lake if it is done responsibly.

In the 1990s, the league supported the Embassy Suites project that encompassed 29 acres of older motels along Highway 50 in South Shore. The project created an impressive 10 acres of open space and wetlands.

Overall, the project cut its development footprint -- called "coverage" -- by an astounding 43 percent. By reducing hotel rooms almost 30 percent, it helped cut traffic. The project truly demonstrated how redevelopment should earn incentives by providing substantial environmental improvement.

In contrast, Boulder Bay is simply too big. It will barely shrink coverage or create any open space. The hotel and facility expansion risks exacerbating traffic, polluting the air and degrading scenery.

What's most unsettling is that the project sets Tahoe on a precarious path toward more urbanization. The TRPA claims this project helps Lake Tahoe. If that's somehow true, how many big hotels will we need to save it?

Tahoe deserves better.

The league has always pushed for the fair and predictable enforcement of a comprehensive, long-term plan that protects Lake Tahoe and its communities while allowing for property owners to exercise their rights. We join several conservation groups in calling for Boulder Bay to simply follow the rules.

Tahoe cannot afford another big hotel binge. We will not be the only ones to suffer from such mistakes. The consequences will be felt for generations to come.
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