Area Plans

What is an Area Plan?

To better address issues of regional environmental significance, the 2012 Regional Plan Update initiated a Basin-wide transition to planning and permitting system where multiple requirements—TRPA, local, state, and federal—are addressed in coordinated Area Plans. The new system of regional and area plans increases TRPA’s focus on key environmental goals while removing the need, in most cases, for two layers of overlapping permit requirements. Under the new framework:

  • TRPA will increasingly implement the Regional Plan through requirements of area plans instead of the direct review of most development permits.
  • TRPA will review and approve the area plans for conformance with the Regional Plan and check in at least annually to ensure that development within each area meets the adopted standards.
  • Large-scale projects and permitting in sensitive areas such as Lake Tahoe’s shorezone would continue to fall under direct permitting requirements of TRPA.

Plan Area Statements and TRPA Community Plans provide a description of land use for particular areas in the Basin. Under the 2012 Regional Plan updates, Area Plans written by local governments, community groups and other land managers will begin to replace Plan Area Statements and TRPA Community Plans.

Area Plans will allow other regulatory agencies in the Region to implement the Regional Plan policies at a smaller scale and with greater flexibility. Area Plans are being created through 2013 and beyond by local governments with community members and stakeholders at the planning table and are an excellent way to get involved in the future of your community. They must be reviewed and approved by TRPA and be found in conformance with Regional policies to become effective. Area Plans also come with specific limitations, an appeal process and annual review criteria to ensure they are working toward Regional goals.

Area Plan Ordinance

Chapter 13 of the Code of Ordinances provides detail on all aspects of Area Plans including required and optional contents; the review and approval process; procedures for adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU); and Monitoring, certification, and enforcement of Area Plans. For more information on Area Plans, please review Chapter 13 of the Code of Ordinances.

Contents & Process of Area Plans


There are a number of optional components that an Area Plan can include, such as area-wide coverage management and parking management. However, there are common elements that an Area Plan should include. These are:

  • Current Conditions – This element must describe existing environmental conditions, the amount and type of development, modes of transportation and service levels, public facilities and their service areas and capacities, and current implementation activities.
  • Conservation – This must address water, air, land, cultural, scenic, and other natural resources, as well as attainment of thresholds required by the bi-state compact.
  • Land Use – The land use element includes development constraints, and the types and amounts of different land uses, including physical development standards.
  • Transportation – The transportation element must identify the different modes of transportation used in the plan area, the levels of service, and planned changes in facilities and services.
  • Recreation – Existing and planned parks, trails and other leisure facilities must be included in the recreation element.
  • Public Services and Facilities – This element must address provision of water, sanitary sewer, fire and police protection, telecommunications, and similar public services, and it must be consistent with the land use element.
  • Implementation – This must include a link to implementing codes, any applicable improvement programs, such as local government capital improvements program or the Environmental Improvement Program, and relevant operations and maintenance programs.

The map series that should be included with these elements is:

  • Existing Conditions – This includes existing land use, land coverage, building footprints, land capability, etc.
  • Conservation – This includes soils, stream environment zones, floodplains, land capability verifications, viewsheds, etc.
  • Planned Land Use – This should show both planned land use and required amendments to the existing land use.
  • Existing and Planned Transportation Facilities – This includes all modes of transportation.
  • Parks and Trails – This includes existing and planned facilities and, where applicable, service areas.
  • Public Services and Facilities – This should show existing and proposed water, sanitary sewer, emergency service, telecommunications, and similar services and facilities, including service areas.

Conformance Review Process

As each Area Plan is completed it must be found in conformance with the Regional Plan. This conformance review model has been used in many states to ensure that local planning and development review are consistent with and implement the Regional Plan. The exact form may vary from state-to-state, but the concept is the same.

In the Lake Tahoe Region both the Area Plan and any associated code must be found in conformance. The Lake Tahoe Region has one of the most stringent conformance review processes in the United States. The initial step in the conformance review process is to evaluate the local government Area Plan and associated code using a conformance review checklist. This checklist approach is used to foster a high degree of predictability and consistency in the conformance review process. The checklist evaluates all Area Plans against each relevant Regional Plan policy.

The current version of the conformance review checklist is available here.

By utilizing this approach local governments must show how they comply with policies in the Regional Plan. Moreover, when additional policies are added via an amendment to the Regional Plan, the local governments have a one-year period to amend the Area Plans if necessary to comply with the amendment. This approach ensures that both existing and new provisions in the Regional Plan will be incorporated into and implemented thorough local Area Plans.

Environmental Review Requirements


Each proposed Area Plans must undergo an environmental review as required in Chapter 3 of the Code of Ordinances. All proposed Area Plans will be evaluated using an Initial Environmental Checklist (IEC). If the IEC review determines that the proposed Area Plan could have a significant effect on the environment, then an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement would be required. The level of environmental analysis required will depend on whether a proposed Area Plan could allow an environmental impact that could not occur under the existing Community Plans and Plan Area Statements. Additional guidelines for determining the level of environmental analysis required for an Area Plan are available below.

Area Plan Environmental Analysis Flowchart

After environmental review is completed, an Area Plan can only be approved if it can be demonstrated that the Area Plan will help to attain and maintain environmental thresholds. In addition, Area Plans proposed by jurisdictions in California must also perform an environmental analysis consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act. Once an Area Plan is adopted individual projects are still required to undergo an environmental review consistent with Chapter 3 of the Code of Ordinances.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)

Once an Area Plan is found in conformance with the Regional Plan and all required environmental analysis is completed, TRPA and the agency proposing the Area Plan will enter into an MOU to implement the Area Plan. The MOU will clearly describe which activities are delegated or exempt from TRPA review and approval. The MOU will also describe all procedures and responsibilities for implementing the Area Plan including monitoring and reporting, inspections and enforcement, and required project-level environmental review and findings. An MOU template is available below.

Draft General MOU template

Monitoring and Reporting

Any development review activity delegated to a local jurisdiction is monitored, evaluated, and reported on an annual basis. Any development decision may also be appealed to the TRPA Governing Board. As a result of the annual monitoring, evaluation, and reporting process the Area Plan may maintain its certification, may maintain its certification subject to conditions, or have its certification and development review authority revoked. View the latest Annual Report here for the latest on Area Plans.

The monitoring of delegated development review under an Area Plan is in addition to environmental monitoring that occurs throughout Tahoe. A broad partnership of agencies and research institutes monitors a wide range of environmental conditions in Tahoe. Every four years, TRPA synthesizes the status and trends related to a wide range of environmental conditions in a Threshold Evaluation Report. View the 2011 Threshold Evaluation Report here.

Area Plans under development or approved


The Area Plans Map page shows the boundaries of the Area Plans that are currently under development or approved. Click on the name of an Area Plan, below, to be directed to the website of the local government for more information and how to get involved.

Douglas County:

City of South Lake Tahoe:

El Dorado County:

Placer County:

Washoe County: