Douglas County may see a building boom resulting from growth-limit scare

The slow-growth movement in Douglas County may have inadvertently spurred one of the biggest potential building seasons in the county's history this year.

County planners issued 715 building permits for new homes last year, one-third more than an average year, and have another 470 applications to process in the pipeline.

"We have doubled the amount of building that is possible in the area because of the initiative and the scare that is going on out there," said Carole Thompson, executive director of the Douglas County Building Industry Association.

The land rush that began last October when builders and property owners first learned an initiative to slow growth would appear on November's ballot, has also created a crisis of sorts in the county building department.

Property owners and developers who have rushed the county in the past few months have created a backlog of applications unlike any other the county has ever seen.

So many new building permits were filed county staff could not keep up, said Bob Nunes, Douglas County Community Development director.

"We got virtually inundated with permits," Nunes said.

The county usually issues 550 permits per year. Nearly that many applications were waiting to be processed in January.

To make matters worse, the county has been unable to take steps to help its planning staff deal with the massive influx. A court-ordered restraining order was issued almost immediately when builders and developers sued the county to stop the growth cap from taking effect after the initiative passed.

While the fate of the voter-approved initiative capping the number of new homes built in Douglas County at 280 per year became instantly entangled in district court, the county building department carried on business as usual.

Douglas District Court Judge Michael Gibbons issued his final court ruling Friday reiterating the decision he made earlier in the week that invalidated the voter-approved initiative because it was in conflict with the county's master plan.

The ruling makes it clear the county is not legally allowed to put the voter-approved growth cap in place and cannot pass any ordinance restricting growth or enact a first-come, first-served basis at the permit counter to restrict growth, said Scott Doyle, District Attorney for Douglas County.

"The important thing is that the county is permanently enjoined in sustaining the initiative," Doyle said.

The ruling, however, will most likely be appealed to the Nevada State Supreme Court, putting in motion a process that may take from 12 to 14 months or more to decide, Doyle said.

Friday's final ruling does allow the county to begin taking administrative steps to deal with the log jam of permit applications currently in the pipeline. Hopefully, the county can begin to speed up the application process and start approving permits, Nunes said.

Those applying to build homes ranged from individual home builders to large developers. It is a myth that only one or two developers hold all the permits in the county, Nunes said.

The county is unsure whether property owners will build out all permits even though permit holders submitted full plans and paid water, sewer and road fees and school and park taxes.

President of Syncon Homes Andy Mitchell said he thinks the log jam at the building department will mean a slower year for his company. Syncon Homes, one of the largest subdivision builders in the valley, scooped up 95 permits last year in the rush to get them before they became restricted. Mitchell said he expects his company will build all 95 homes this year.

The company has 100 more permits in the pipeline at the county but because of the influx of permits, Mitchell said he expects the delay will put some projects on hold for a few months.

Syncon Homes is currently building at Silvercrest, behind Home Depot and Target in Indian Hills, in the Chichester Estates subdivision, the Arbor Gardens by Stodick Park, Skyline Ranch at the end of Johnson Lane and two other projects near Sunridge Golf Course.

Other local contractors say they expect a busy year following the ruling against the initiative. Many, like Mark Kamisky of Carson County Construction, looked elsewhere for work after November's election.

"I started pursuing clients in other areas," Kamisky said. "I didn't want to sit around for Douglas County to see what they're going to do. I expect to start getting calls again as soon as the county calms down," Kamisky said.


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