The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is calling time out this month as it tries to catch up on its growing list of project permit applications.
Swamped with 16 percent more permit applications than in the previous year, TRPA's planning staff is setting aside five days solely for the purpose of processing the backlog of requests.
"In the past, we've called them crank days but we're going a little further this year by not accepting new applications on these days," said Pam Drum, TRPA spokeswoman. "The front counter will be open for information but people won't be able to meet with the planning staff for permit applications."
The work days are scheduled for Aug. 15, 16, 24, 25 and 31. On those days, project applications will not be accepted and project review staff will not be available for front-counter assistance. Consultation for future projects and meetings on non-emergency matters will be postponed until September.
"People have a tendency to wait until summer to file an application and we have a problem with that because that's our peak season," Drum said. "We had about 20 projects that went through last month alone."
Making matters worse, the planning staff currently has two vacancies, and hopes to have those filled within the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the short-handed staff is planning to make a sizable dent this month in the pile of pending applications it has on file.
In the last fiscal year which ended June 30, there were 1,015 applications received by the regional planning agency.
At any one time, more than 50 of those applicants are being represented by environmental firm Midkiff & Associates to assist them through the permit process.
Consultant Gary Midkiff said his clients, who range from commercial developers to single-family homeowners, have experienced some delay.
"We sympathize with the staff, especially right now because they are short-handed," he said. " On the other hand, it's tough for the clients and tough explaining to the clients why it can take so long to get a permit."
Midkiff said, in some cases, some applications that were completed on May 1 had just been assigned a staff review in July.
TRPA's procedural rules require staff to issue a permit within 120 days of receiving a complete application.
"If they slip (on issuing the permit within 120 days), then we're looking at six months plus in order to get a project through," he said.
Drum said the most tardy applications will get top priority in the staff's five-day review session.
"We certainly want to process the 60 or so applications that have the potential of going over the 120-day time period," Drum said.