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Park Avenue/US 50, Phase 1 Redevelopment

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Reduces runoff from a 2-year, 24-hour rainfall event by 500,000 gallons by reducing the total impervious surface on the site by 20%.

Social

  • Reduced the peak month Average Daily Traffic (ADT) and annual ADT on Park Avenue by 24% and 23%, respectively, between 2001 and 2009.
  • Increased the total visible area of the natural environment by 10%. For all views of the Carson Range that were blocked by new development, the design created new views in other areas of the project site.
  • Increased the scenic quality of the roadway, as measured by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Travel Route Rating, which increased from 7.5 in 1996 to 14 in 2006.

Economic

  • Reduces fertilizer consumption by 70% by using slow-growing turfgrass and organic fertilizer, which saves an estimated $880 annually.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Design Workshop, Inc.

  • Project Type

    Courtyard/Plaza
    Retail
    Streetscape

  • Former Land Use

    Commercial

  • Location

    Park Avenue
    South Lake Tahoe, California 96150

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  • Climate Zone

    Continental mediterranean

  • Size

    34 acres

  • Budget

    $260 million

  • Completion Date

    2003

The town of South Lake Tahoe experienced undisciplined development, which created traffic congestion, limited connectivity to recreational assets, and negatively impacted the scenic and environmental quality of Lake Tahoe and the region. In response, strict environmental regulations were developed, which subsequently ceased development activities. Faced with serious environmental and economic problems, residents, officials, and developers jointly revised development regulations and worked to strategically deploy development monies to give the town a new future. Today, the town’s Park Avenue Corridor with its wide sidewalks, interconnected plazas, consistent architecture, gondola, intermodal transit center, street furniture, and integrated stormwater management is a national model for redevelopment that promotes economic vitality, improves the natural environment, and creates a strong sense of place.

  • Visual clutter, including outdoor billboards, irregular street walls, and eclectic architectural styles, was replaced with consistent building massing, signage, awnings and overhangs, which protect and enhance views of the Carson Range.
  • Building setbacks along US 50 were increased to 50 ft. This minimum setback helps preserve views and ensures that the roadway receives solar exposure between 10am and 3pm throughout the year.
  • Sidewalk widths were increased from 6 ft to 12-15 ft to create a comfortable, safe, and enjoyable environment for pedestrians. Driveway curb cuts were reduced from 15 to 2, eliminating many points of conflict between pedestrians and vehicles. Street trees, planted areas, and street furniture such as benches, trash receptacles, and street lights were added. As a result, the area has become a walking destination.
  • Overhang areas were incorporated into new buildings to provide shelter from rain, snow, and direct sunlight, creating a more pleasant year-round experience for pedestrians.
  • Open space, trails, bike paths and parks were created to increase recreational opportunities. These include a 0.3-mile, 50-ft wide public promenade, the 1.4-acre Gondola Plaza, and an ice skating park. All of them are connected through a dense pedestrian network that serves hotel guests, shoppers, and tourists. Plazas are full of amenities, such as kiosks, directories, fire pits, swimming pools, a playground, and ample seating.
  • A new 1.3-acre Intermodal Transit Center consolidates public and private transportation systems totaling 11 bus lines. The 4,610 sf building has a visitor information center, ticketing services, and public restrooms.
  • The new 10,000-ft Heavenly Gondola connects Park Avenue with the Heavenly Ski Resort, increasing access to year-round recreation and reducing traffic congestion, particularly in the winter. With the capacity to transport 3,000 people per hour, the gondola provides access to the ski resort for 20% of winter visitors.
  • Two stormwater detention basins were created to manage runoff from up to a 20-year, 1-hour storm event. A 1-acre, onsite detention basin treats around 20% of the total runoff and is located at the northeast corner of the intersection of US 50 and Pioneer Trail. A 3-acre, offsite detention basin treats the remaining 80% of runoff and is located west of Park Avenue between Black Rock Road and Meadow Road.
  • The new facilities included an automatic snowmelt system with the capacity to handle 170,778 square feet of sidewalks and plazas. Runoff from snowmelt in the plazas is collected, conveyed, and treated in the stormwater system. Because of the savings in labor, equipment and fuel, the snowmelt system paid for itself in just four winters.
  • 112 mature Jeffrey pine trees were preserved on the site. The native Jeffrey pine provides vital wildlife habitat due to the food value of its seeds and nesting value of tree cavities or sheltered branches.
  • Dwarf, non-mowed turf varieties like Aurora Hard Fescue and Mokelumne Fescue cover 5.9 acres of the project since they require little maintenance. High-traffic groomed-turf areas were used only minimally to reduce irrigation and fertilization needs.
  • Irrigation was installed and is managed to minimize runoff to stormwater management facilities. In potential runoff areas, edging materials are 1 in higher than the surrounding grade to contain any excess irrigation water.
  • The fertilization plan requires Biosol or an equivalent organic nitrogen fertilizer to be used at a rate not exceeding 1.3 lbs per 1,000 square feet per year. This is a 58% reduction in the normal application rate for groomed turf. Fertilizer is applied with a drop type spreader to minimize broadcasting on adjacent beds and walks. Onsite wells monitor groundwater for nitrogen loading.

Challenge

The design team was charged with crafting an environmentally sustainable vision for South Lake Tahoe’s future that would revive portions of the community that were derelict. Previous ill-planned development had led the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to implement stringent development regulations, which required preservation of viewsheds and limited land coverage in order to reduce stormwater runoff and its subsequent impacts on the water quality and clarity of Lake Tahoe.

Solution

The design team convinced the TPRA officials that some development regulations conflicted with the goals of preserving the scenic and environmental quality. Together, they revised the regulations to accommodate taller development (height limit increased from 32 to 76 ft) with smaller footprints and higher total building square footages. To preserve views to the mountains and Lake Tahoe, these buildings have a setback distance of 50 ft from the highway, which effectively decreases their apparent heights. To reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff on the lake, pretreatment vaults, water quality detention basins and constructed wetlands were incorporated.

By using 5.9 acres of slow-growing turfgrass instead of conventional high-maintenance turf and requiring that Biosol or an equivalent organic nitrogen fertilizer be applied instead of conventional fertilizer, fertilizer use is reduced by 70%, saving an estimated $880 annually.

  • A public/private partnership and public investment in redevelopment at this scale can successfully encourage additional private development. As improvements and installations were constructed, surrounding land owners almost immediately started improving their properties, as well.
  • A $9 million parking structure was built on the eastern edge of the project, hidden from view in an effort to reduce the negative visual impact that parking structures typically cause. The structure, which was paid for with city bonds, is not generating the projected revenues for two reasons: (1) Because it is not highly visible, first-time tourists to the area do not know that the structure exists, and thus they park in nearby surface lots. (2) There is a fee to park in the structure, whereas nearby lots are free. Many tourists and skiers park in the free lots – sometimes for an entire day – occupying spaces meant for patrons of local businesses.
  • By constructing a scale model of the site using the existing regulations, the design team was able to convince the TRPA that the regulations they had established would be counterintuitive to the agency’s goals and objectives. The model illustrated three essential principles: (1) The building height limit of 32 ft encouraged greater land coverage, eliminating space that could used to create plazas, parks, and pedestrian areas. (2) Taller buildings and larger setbacks from the road could preserve and enrich mountain views. (3) TRPA’s prohibition of below-grade construction prevented concealment of parking. Without the visual aid of the model, the design team’s claims would not have been accepted by the agency, and the resulting design would have been drastically different.

Project Team

Master Plan: Design Workshop, Inc.
Transportation Consultant: LSC Transportation Consultants, Inc.
Master Plan Architects: Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects
Architects: Jung Brannen, Inc., Theodore Brown and Partners
Collaborator: Lew Feldman, Shaw and Devore, LLC

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect developed the master plan for the site and led a team of architects, civil engineers, transportation planners, market researchers, and economists to develop the urban design plan, gondola terminal, pedestrian and vehicular streetscape, and five public open spaces. The landscape architect also negotiated with the regional planning agency and assisted in rewriting regulations.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Bo Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Yue Zhang, MLA candidate, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Pamela Blackmore, BLA candidate, Utah State University
Firm Liaisons: Allyson Mendenhall, Richard Shaw, and Dori Johnson, Design Workshop
October 2012

Topics

Stormwater management, Scenic quality & views, Transportation, Operations & maintenance savings, Efficient irrigation, Rainwater harvesting, Shade structure, Trail, Trees, Active living, Complete streets

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