Judge Dismisses Suit Over Tahoe Scenic Regs

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the authority of Lake Tahoe land-use officials to regulate the scenic impacts of "monster homes" along the lake's shore.

Officials with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency called the dismissal an important victory for protecting the scenic quality of the Sierra lake that straddles the Nevada-California line.

"It affirms TRPA's planning process was a good one and that it has the authority to regulate scenic quality," agency lawyer John Marshall told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"Development has been getting bigger, closer to the lake and more contrasting with the natural backdrop. That detracts from the scenic experience of Lake Tahoe," he said.

Critics called the ruling disappointing but said a continued fight is likely.

"It's not over. This was a first round," said Ronald Zumbrun, attorney for the Committee for Reasonable Regulation of Lake Tahoe.

The regulations adopted in 2002 assign a numerical rating to new shoreline projects, both private and commercial. Those with an acceptable rating can be built, but those with an unacceptable "visual magnitude" must be revised.

Builders can improve their point score by using trees and shrubs for screening, using earth-tone paints and minimal glass or taking other steps to reduce visual impacts.

The regulations also apply to existing structures when they are remodeled or expanded - the typical way that "trophy" or "monster" homes are built since there are so few vacant lakeshore parcels left at Tahoe.

The Committee for Reasonable Regulation, a group made up of homeowners, real estate agents and other critics, sued in January 2003, claiming the regulations lack any scientific support and represent an illegal taking of property without compensation.

U.S. District Judge Edward Reed dismissed portions of the suit last year. The rest was dismissed in a ruling issued Monday.

Reed said the TRPA was properly responding to a recognized loss of scenic quality around the Tahoe Basin and that homeowners have adequate options under the rules.

"Obviously, a homeowner wanting to have a glass house will likely be frustrated by this ordinance," Reed wrote. "However, it is apparent that a homeowner who wants particular views of Lake Tahoe or a particular type of structure can plan around these requirements."

Zumbrun said Reed's ruling leaves open the option of filing an amended suit on two key arguments - that an environmental impact statement should have been conducted and that the rules amount to a taking of property rights.

"We haven't thrown in the towel at all," Zumbrun said.

TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub said he hopes the fighting is over.

"We want to move on and focus on the positive difference the agency can make to the lake in the future," Singlaub said.