Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Scenic Measurements & Reports

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Does this really apply to me?

If you own a lake front home, there are specific portions of the ordinance that apply to you regarding Scenic Site Assessments, and the vantage points from which you will be evaluated. If your property is visible within any of the Scenic Corridors (primarily the 3 major highways that circle the lake), then there are specific portions applicable to you. Most of the questions here address lake front ownership issues, as those answers are a bit easier to define. Regardless of which situation you are governed by, TRPA will ultimately decide which hoops you need to jump through, and when. It's always preferable to speak with them early and often so as to avoid any surprises later. These requirements can add an appreciable amount of lead time to your project.

2) What is a Scenic Site Assessment?

It's the process by which the existing condition (sometimes called the baseline condition) of a lake front property is measured for its scenic impact, and given a Contrast Rating. TRPA uses this rating number to determine how much of your building fa�ade should be screened from view while at a point 300 feet offshore.

3) What is a Scenic Impact Report and how is it different from the above?

A scenic impact report utilizes a similar process to a scenic site assessment, to calculate the Contrast Rating for a proposed set of conditions. It requires simulating the proposed building, site, and landscaping conditions that one wishes to implement on an existing property.

Copyright 2010 K B Anderson
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4) What is a Contrast Rating?

Well, it's sort of like this:

[(Qz / Zq)(Fq x Fe)/Q(Fe x Zq)] / (Qz + (Fe x Zq/3.14) = Contrast Rating

That' not entirely accurate, but I'm hoping you'll appreciate that the actual mathematical equation for this is somewhat complex. It requires the measurement of surface planes, visible perimeter edges, colors, and textures for a given structure or group of structures on a property. In the end you get a score, which ranges from 0 - 50. The higher your score, the more visible facade you're entitled to. The lower your score, the more you have to screen your facade from view at a point 300 feet offshore. In effect, if your house is bright and shiny TRPA doesn't want it visible from the lake. If it blends well with it's natural backdrop, then you earn the right to have it more visible from Lake Tahoe and consequently have the lake more visible from your house. In the end, that last part is what most lake front homeowners desire.

5) Who does my scenic site assessment and contrast rating?

I theory, you could do the calculations yourself. At this point in time there are no qualifications for the preparation of a contrast rating. The value of having the process done by me is accuracy. Bear in mind that the reports are essentially an accounting of all the facade surfaces of your house, their color and texture, and visibility from a vantage point on Lake Tahoe. Liken this to an accounting of money - if you account for your income and expenses rounding everything to the nearest $10.00 it's not likely that you'll be able to argue that somebody owes you 15 cents. The scenic calculations can be very touchy at times - a difference of 1 foot of visible perimeter (the equivalent of that 15 cents) can make the difference between being in compliance with the ordinance or not. Also, the more accurate your measurements and calculations are, the better your footing will be for seeking any special considerations for which you may qualify.

6) Who are you and what do you want?

My role in this capacity is largely technical - my primary interest is in continually developing the most accurate and technically sound methodology for collecting and calculating scenic impact data. I want to put a precisely calculated and exquisitely prepared report in your hands, or the hands of your designer or consultant. I am frenquently subcontracted by Architects and Designers who either have no interest in developing such a specific set of tools when they can sub it out, or those who wish to do the primary calculations and reporting themselves and just want somebody to do their fieldwork for them. They get the benefit of my experience, I get to be outside taking pictures on beautiful lakefront lots around Lake Tahoe. Trust me, I'm not complaining much when I get the call fror this type of work.

7) When do I have to get a scenic site assessment?

If you own a lakefront home and wish to do any work that visibly alters your home, you will be subject to a review based on how extensive your plans are. If you're simply re-roofing or repainting, TRPA has a list of recommended colors they would like you to use that are sympathetic to the natural background here. If you're planning to expand any portion of your home which is visible from the lake, the submittal and review process will be quite a bit more complex, and will likely involve providing a Scenic Impact Report. Unfortunately, before you can submit a Scenic Impact Report, you generally will need to submit a Scenic Site Assessment first, to establish your "baseline condition". This can add a significant amount of lead-time to your project, while you wait for the agency to review and process your applications and reports. You can however, prepare and submit a scenic site assessment at any point in time, so as to effectively be "pre-processed" for the baseline condition. If you have no intention of ever changing your home, it makes little sense to do so. If, on the other hand you have long term plans for your lake front property which include expanding or altering any of the structures on it, then it makes sense to have the baseline scenic site assessment completed in advance of the commencement of design work.

9) What's a scenic BMP?

BMP is planning speak for "best management practices". Essentially scenic BMP's are anything that either screens man made structures from view, or aids in those structures becoming more harmonious with their background. If you were to paint a white house dark green, it would be considered implementing a Scenic BMP (provided your natural backdrop is green). Planting and landscaping are also effective Scenic BMP's in some instances.

10) Can my Scenic Site Assessment be done anytime?

In theory yes, but for practical purposes no. During the winter months snow cover will obviously alter the background for your property and make structure stand out excessively. It's also important to ensure that any seasonal (non-evergreen) foliage that screens portions of your structures from view be in its summer attire, and be doing its thing. The season for doing the fieldwork is not much different than the boating season on Lake Tahoe, although in certain situations it may be possible to do the fieldwork during the colder months. Each lot is unique in this respect, and should be evaluated individually. I typically "scout" the property well in advance for just this reason, as well as evaluating access issues.

11) How long does it take to get my results?

TRPA's backlog varies considerably, and it also varies with the seasons. It's often advisable to have the field work done during the summer months, and then prepare and submit it for review during the "off season".

12) OK, I've got my Contrast Rating and it's terrible, do I have to fix it?

Not necessarily - at this point in time you're under no obligation to rectify an existing condition that TRPA considers out of compliance with its design guidelines, provided that condition pre-existed the scenic ordinance. If you're not making any changes to your property, then even if your house scores at the absolute bottom of the scale you are not required to do anything to increase it's compliance. However, once you decide to alter that property in a manner that requires scenic review, your score will be scrutinized and some form of mitigation will likely be required.

13) So what is the basic process flow here, where do I start and what do I do?


A) You decide you want to make a change to your lake front property, and what the basic scope of those changes are (i.e., paint & trim, addition, tear down and rebuild, etc)

B) You consult the TRPA matrix to determine what level of review your changes will require.

C) If so required, you submit a Scenic Site Assessment and your current Contrast Rating, to establish where your property stands currently with respect to the desired optimums established by TRPA.

D) Your Scenic Site Assessment is reviewed by TRPA, and accepted as is, or with corrections as outlined in the correspondence they send to you or your consultant.

E) With your Existing "scenic status" in hand, you proceed with developing your plans for your proposed changes. Your consultants and/or TRPA will advise you what your type of targets you must achieve to meet the requirements. Those may include colors more in harmony with your background, an Architectural design that breaks up or minimizes large areas of facade, or landscaping to screen parts of the structure.

F) You submit your proposed plans with your Scenic Impact Report to TRPA. Obviously, you've taken great care to ensure that that you meet the minimum requirements, making the job of reviewing your submission that much easier. It also helps that one of your consultants is me, who has done a wonderful job of preparing your reports, thus making it easier for TRPA and your designers and other consultants to easily and accurately discuss issues should any questions arise. If so directed, you'll also submit a photo simulation from a vantage point selected by your TRPA Planner.

G) You receive approval from TRPA, and any other agencies (please note that TRPA approvals do not constitute compliance with any other applicable code requirement such as county, state, and federal building codes), and proceed to build, paint, trim, etc.

H) Sit back, breath a sigh of relief, and know that you've done the right thing and protected the value of your lakefront home by ensuring that it's in compliance with one of the more complex regional ordinances.

I) There is not step I, simply because "I" looks too much like the number one, so we don't use it. We don't use "O", "L",  "Q", or "Z" either, but we won't get that far today.

J) Enjoy the view, all I see are trees from my house. Don't get me wrong, I love trees! The point is that not all of us are fortunate enough to have a lake front, so the rest of us really hope you're taking full advantage of it and enjoying it.

15) What's up with all the dog pictures?

They're man's best friend and I'm a man. I like dogs. Dogs usually like me too. Besides this is Tahoe - it's all about the dogs. Dogs lower your blood pressure (your results may vary). Dogs make you happy (happier for those of you already happy). Dogs  protect you from mad killer zombie squirrels (my dog is really good at this). Dogs help scrub algae out of the lake by swimming through it and mopping it up with their fur (I may be reaching a bit on this point).

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Scenic Measurements & Reports

Frequently Asked Questions
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Scenic Measurements & Reports

Frequently Asked Questions

8) When do I need a Scenic Impact Report?

This is normally done in concert with any design work for your additions or alterations to the property. TRPA can require you to prepare a Scenic Impact Report for any proposed work in any of Tahoe's scenic Corridors (pretty much anything visible from one of the 3 major highways that circle the lake). As a function of the scale of the work your doing, you may be required to implement "Scenic BMP's" to elevate your contrast rating and/or lower your visible facade area.

14) Reading ordinaces is not my thing. . . I'm still confused.

It's not you, this stuff really is a bit complicated. Call and ask questions. Call me, call TRPA, call anyone and everyone. Don't stop asking questions until you've reached step "J" above! These ordinances may sometimes seem like impenetrable barriers, but they're actually designed to allow a fair amount of flexibility provided you're willing to work within the guidelines and honor their intent.

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