Open space up for approval at year's end

Carson City's open space plan is back on track for approval by the end of the year.

A technicality in city code stopped the open space element to the city's master plan from being heard by the Regional Planning Commission in September.

Community Development and District Attorney staff have worked on the problem and have clarified in city ordinances when changes to the city's master plan can occur.

Deputy District Attorney Neil Rombardo argued in September the open space element was actually an amendment to the city's master plan and under city code could only be considered in July or January. He also said there could only be two changes to the city's master plan per year. Community Development Director Walt Sullivan disagreed saying the open space plan was an element of the master plan and could be considered at any time.

The ordinance was rewritten, Sullivan said, to interpret the difference between an amendment and an element and when they could be adopted.

Sullivan said an amendment to the master plan allows changes in property designation on the land use map, for example changing residential land to commercial land. An element is a chapter of the master plan with different chapters, such as traffic, economic development and eventually open space, that identify goals and objectives within a city.

The ordinance change will also allow the planning commission and city supervisors to adopt elements any time during the year. An amendment can be made at any time if it follows certain criteria.

The planning commission approved the changes Nov. 4.

Open Space Committee Chairman Steve Hartman said the changes were important to help the open space plan get to its final level.

"Hopefully (residents) will hang in there with us until we get this finished and can start putting into place what they voted for," Hartman said.

Open space planning has been in the works since the passage of the Quality of Life Initiative in 1996. Question 18 authorized a quarter of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund open space, parks and trails. The tax raises about $1.7 million a year with 40 percent going toward open space, 40 percent toward parks and 20 percent for maintenance of new park projects.

The committee will only have about $700,000 a year to purchase open space land. That limits the amount of land that can be purchased, so the final draft of the plan identifies five priority areas for open space acquisition:

- Carson River corridor

- Hillsides visible from the city

- Working, irrigated ranches

- In-town trail corridors

- Trail corridors outside the city

The plan notes that residents want to preserve open space to preserve hillsides from development, protect wildlife habitat and provide trails. It also specifies committee strategy for dealing with landowners, land preservation and protection tools and identifies a short- to long-term implementation plan.

City supervisors will decide on the master plan changes in December and if they approve, the open space plan should be reviewed and adopted by the end of the year.

"There's been a lot of hard work not only by the (open space) committee, but also by the citizens who worked to get this adopted in the first place," Hartman said. "There's a lot of anticipation for this."


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