Navigating Lake Tahoe Development |

Navigating Lake Tahoe Development

Jordan Walsh
Jordan Walsh

Exploring and understanding the future of development in the Tahoe Basin is a complicated task. This is especially true when you consider that talking about development in the Basin is not a discussion about building new; it is a discussion about “redevelopment” and “revitalization” for the purpose of promoting visitor access within communities that were developed for strikingly different purposes than that for which they are being utilized today.

That’s not to say people are not still sleeping in their homes and visiting the local grocery store to pick up dinner. Instead, it means that the focus of the area’s economy has shifted dramatically over the last 25 years and as a result, the Basin is faced with a new set of challenges. Namely, how to attract and retain tourists in a highly competitive market in which development is confined by physical and economic constraints arising from the limited amount, and high cost, of developable land within the Basin.

These factors make development challenging at best. That’s not to say that development is impossible, it just means that when considering new projects for the Basin, developers and communities need to be creative.

Creativity is vital. Although the lake’s communities are, and have always been, centered on tourism, the Lake Tahoe Basin is now attracting a very different kind of tourist. Specifically, more than ever, people are visiting the Basin to engage in some form of active tourism. They come to the area to explore the wide variety of outdoor experiences offered within the Basin. Accordingly, in the midst of the decline in the gaming economy, a new kind of tourist — an “eco-tourist” — is inspiring a renaissance of sorts in the Basin.

“Although the RPU is arguably more beneficial to developers than TRPA’s past regulatory models, developers should be cognizant of the fact that development in the Basin remains highly regulated and that the system used for planning and permitting has changed as a result of the RPU.” Jordan WalshAllison MacKenzie Law Firm

Today’s tourist does not come to the Basin for the singular purpose of gambling. While he or she may visit a casino, today’s tourist typically wants to be active and to enjoy the incredible natural environment that defines the Lake Tahoe Basin. Notably, today’s tourist is willing to pay for the experience, be it purchasing a lift ticket, renting a boat, or enjoying a dinner on the town. That said, the key to engaging this tourist is to provide him or her with easy access to activities (i.e. making it easy for a group of friends to access the mountain, the lake, or the community center without forcing them into a car).

Realizing this, communities around the Basin have spent the last decade working with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and community leaders to make Tahoe’s communities more accessible to visitors while promoting environmental health within the Basin. Accordingly, more and more we are seeing projects that incorporate pedestrian and/or bike friendly corridors, encourage community core redevelopment, and promote environmental quality being proposed and implemented in the Basin. For instance, projects like the Kings Beach Community Core Improvement Project, the US 50/South Shore Revitalization Project (also known as the Loop Road Project), and the Lake Tahoe Bike Path, while in various stages of implementation, enjoy wide scale community support. These creative projects represent a new trend toward revitalization in the Basin, and are an encouraging sign for the direction in which Tahoe is headed because these projects show that public and private interests in the Basin are ready, able, and willing to invest in creative alternatives to the vehicle-centric planning that once characterized the Basin’s gaming economy.

The changes implemented within TRPA’s 2012 Regional Plan Update (“RPU”), received unprecedented community support during the plan’s development and implementation. The RPU, which seeks to foster “sustainable communities” within the Basin by promoting increased/intensified development in identified “urban centers” while decreasing development within sensitive environments, is an exciting development for developers and citizens of the Basin because it signals a shift in TRPA’s planning strategies towards redevelopment of existing sites, a change that will likely benefit Tahoe’s developers in addition to the Basin’s communities and natural environment. While, it should be noted that the RPU is currently being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court has yet to issue its decision in the case, no injunction was requested in the action. Accordingly, the popular RPU continues to provide the framework under which development is implemented within the Basin, and will continue to provide this framework until and unless the court decides in favor of the RPU’s challengers.

Understanding this, individuals wishing to develop sites within the Basin must be aware of the fact that, under the RPU, development within the region is now subject to a different planning and permitting structure. Specifically, the Basin is being divided into unique “Area Plans” regulated by TRPA, as well as local, state, and federal authorities, which allow RPU polices to be implemented on a smaller scale and in a more flexible manner. Although the RPU is arguably more beneficial to developers than TRPA’s past regulatory models, developers should be cognizant of the fact that development in the Basin remains highly regulated and that the system used for planning and permitting has changed as a result of the RPU.

While this is an exciting time for communities, developers, and citizens in the Basin, if you are seeking to develop a site in the Basin you must be careful to ensure that your project is operating in compliance with the requisite guidelines. A failure to comply with these guidelines can derail a project, and/or result in fines. Accordingly, if you have questions about the planning and permitting process related to a project, you should consult with experienced and competent legal counsel that can assist you in navigating the intricate and complicated regulatory landscape of the Tahoe Basin.

Jordan Walsh is an associate with Allison MacKenzie Law Firm with primary practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Real Estate Law and Land Use Law. Jordan was admitted to practice in Nevada and California in 2014 and is knowledgeable about the unique challenges facing the Tahoe Basin. Jordan can be reached at 775.687.0202 or


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