The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a decision dismissing challenges to regulatory approvals for a Nevada housing project and thus reinstated the claims. League to Save Lake Tahoe v. Tahoe Reg’l Planning Agency, No. 11-17318 (9th Cir. 10/11/12) (unpublished). The plaintiffs asserted that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s (TRPA’s) approval of the Sierra Colina Village project improperly identified an access road as primarily serving the needs of individuals other than project residents. The challenge focused on environmental harm that could result from covering a greater amount of land if the roadway were included.
According to the Ninth Circuit, plaintiffs had standing because they had adequately shown a substantial threat of environmental harm. The parties apparently agreed that the additional roadway would increase discharges of sediment and other pollutants to Lake Tahoe and that the land coverage transfer including the access road would permit land coverage for the project greater than allowed by TRPA’s code of ordinances. Focusing on a requirement that TRPA find the roadway would “primarily” benefit individuals other than Sierra Colina residents, the court ruled that TRPA had not adequately articulated how the road would primarily benefit non-residents. The court also held that the record “does not contain substantial evidence that there are no feasible alternatives” to the proposed access road that would reduce the project’s overall land coverage. The court remanded the case, instructing the district court to vacate the agency’s approval and remand for further proceedings.