Growth cap debate continues

A growth cap is needed in Douglas County, Brad Spires of the Sierra Nevada Association of Realtors told residents and county officials at a meeting of the Douglas County Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Peter Beekhof of the Douglas County Building Industry Association, agreed.

"We believe the cap is necessary to keep this Valley green and we support it," he said.

More than 50 people filled the Dublin Room at the Carson Valley Inn for the first of a series of meetings on a growth limit.

The statements signal a new spirit of cooperation with respect to limiting growth in Douglas County, but coming to an agreement on a number and whether it should be a percentage or flat limit, is the challenge.

Representing members of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee, Judy Sturgis, said the emotion needs to be removed from the issue. People need to look at the facts about water and other issues affected by growth, and what a limit will mean for the Valley.

"We have to come up with a good long-range plan for the county's health," she said. "Some say they want growth limits set at 5 percent, but they don't understand what that number means over the long-term."

Local contractor Greg Lynn said the issue has brought chaos to locals on both sides of the debate. It would be much less divisive if the threat of financial ruin for builders and other developers was removed.

Phasing in an allocation system for developers who have already committed a lot of money to their developments would help, he said.

He questioned whether Douglas County would be able to attract retail big box development that bring in sales taxes if residential development is cut in Douglas County.

"Retail sales tax revenues are not the fatted calf we thought they would be but they are there," he said. "A major retailer counts bedrooms. When they see no bedrooms, there will be no retailers and we will have to finance this county.

"I don't know how to get off that flywheel, but an abrupt lack of new housing will hurt," he said "There is a price to pay."

Community Development Director Mitch Dion said developments approved before passage of the Sustainable Growth Initiative in 2002 will not be affected. Any developments approved after that date may be subject to the pending Supreme Court decision and ultimately, either resolution district court or some other negotiated agreement.

"We hope this effort we're engaged in now will be implemented so we can work out the bugs over the next 18 months and put a new initiative on the ballot in 2008," said County Commission Chairman Jim Baushke. "We must work together to make that happen."

Mel Schwake, director of the Carson Valley Agricultural Association, asked for special consideration with respect to ranching families.

"Agriculture ends up in the middle of most master plan deals and we always get whacked," he said. "We need an ordinance separate from other growth limits so heirs are allowed to live on the family ranch. I've seen too many ranches destroyed because heirs weren't allowed to live on the family ranch when it was time to take over."

"Part of the reason you like it here is because ranchers have been conservators of the land," said rancher Paula Corley. "But if SGI goes through our land will be worthless.

"If we have to buy a $90,000 baler or $150,000 piece of equipment, we now have the prerogative to sell a piece of land to pay for it," she said. "Take that away and the ranchers will end up selling their water rights. This whole valley will dry up."

"We all know the issues, but we're now at a point where we have to work together," said John Garvin, co-chair of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee.

Following statements by numerous interest groups, Bob Allgeier, one-time county commissioner in Douglas County, suggested making a decision as to what number would be palatable and then working out the details.

"Carson City has a growth ordinance," he said. "Maybe we should take a look at their method. Then all we'll need to argue about is the number."

Planning Commission chairwoman Nancy McDermid said the process has to be based on verifiable data and she wants to see a copy of the Carson City growth management ordinance.

"I'll bring that back next time," Dion said.

The next meeting is scheduled for May 25, but a time and location have not been set. The information will be released on the Douglas County Web site, and noticed at various locations, Dion said.

Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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