Hillel Aron

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A conservation group sued Lake Tahoe's planning agency, on Friday, over a plan to allow for more housing development throughout parts of the 501 square-mile Tahoe Basin, which straddles the scenic lake that sits on the border of California and Nevada.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a bi-state compact, approved a set of amendments to its regional plan in December that would increase height limits, and remove density limits, parking requirements, and requirements for set-backs — the space between the construction and property line — in much the Tahoe area, particularly in the town centers.

The nonprofit Mountain Area Preservation says in its complaint, filed in federal court, "will fundamentally change the character of these areas, pave the way for more development, significantly impact scenic views and have other potentially significant impacts on water and air quality, transportation, and emergency evacuation." It notes that many of the changes will affect commercial development too, "in a mixed-use development where commercial uses are up to half the square footage."

"These set of amendments are the type of zoning and codes that Tahoe has never seen," said Alexis Ollar, the nonprofit's executive director. " We’re talking about 65-foot tall buildings. That’s five stories." The plan, she said, would amount to "unlimited density."

"That’s a real urban planning concept," she said. "If you know Tahoe — we’re not a city."

The Tahoe Regional Planing Agency's executive director, Julie Regan, defended their newly adopted plan, saying in a written statement, "The policies are intended to encourage more affordable and workforce housing in limited areas of the Lake Tahoe Region consistent with TRPA’s strict development caps and environmental standards."

Like so much of California, the cost of housing in Lake Tahoe has risen significantly throughout the last decade or two. Workers in Tahoe, which serves a high volume of tourists, are finding it harder and harder to live in the area.

That's led to a call, by some, to ease rules in the hope of attracting more housing development to the region. The new rules are intended to encourage the construction of more duplexes, tri-plexes and apartment buildings that would make the area more walkable and affordable, particularly for its workforce.

"The current affordable housing crisis is impacting Lake Tahoe’s environment and communities," said Regan. "Creating more affordable housing while protecting our incredible environment is a high priority ... for the agency."

Ollar was quick to say that her group is not opposed to the construction of affordable and workforce housing.

"We’re workforce housing advocates," she said, "but also advocates for responsible, sound development."

The suit claims that the environmental review for such drastic zoning changes is insufficient.

"TRPA has not done its due diligence, Ollar said. "There were only four hearings. That’s pretty limited, when it comes to the land use world."