Tahoe property owners lose court fight against regulatory agency

SACRAMENTO - A U.S. District Court lawsuit filed in January by more than 250 property owners against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was rejected Monday on procedural grounds.

The Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council lawsuit alleged the agency's system for rating environmental sensitivity of vacant lots, set up in 1987, unconstitutionally robbed landowners of any ability to build on their land.

But the federal court said too much time had passed, and the lawsuit should have been filed by 1991 at the latest.

The bulk of the plaintiffs - 243 of them - own property on Tahoe's California side. Nine owners on the Nevada side also were plaintiffs.

Under TRPA's land-use regulation, called the Individual Parcel Evaluation System, lots get a numerical rating based on such factors as slope, soil type and proximity to streams. Those rated below a certain level are not eligible for construction.

The system was supposed to free some less sensitive lots for construction as the most sensitive ones were protected through public acquisition.

Landowners contend that hasn't happened quickly enough - particularly in California - leaving thousands of owners unable to build.

The dispute is the latest in a long-running war between the Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council and TRPA.

The council also represented more than 400 property owners in a lawsuit alleging TRPA illegally robbed them of property rights with separate regulations in the early 1980s.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Reed of Reno ruled TRPA's actions took away property rights without required compensation and that the agency should pay damages.

That decision is on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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