County calls for cooperation on growth cap

Following a heated exchange Thursday over growth limits in Carson Valley, county commissioners called for cooperation between Realtors, developers and members of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee and others favoring growth limits.

"This is one of the most important issues the county has faced in its history," said Commission Chairman Jim Baushke. "Either we come together and solve this problem or we'll be divided forever. I hope we choose to come together."

Baushke said a commission decision at this point would probably mean lawsuits from one interest group or another. He suggested a committee made up of representatives from each faction hammer out a compromise.

"The five of us (commissioners) can't wave a magic wand and make everyone happy," he said. "And we can't keep going on this way. We have other formidable issues facing us, like interbasin transfers of water and water quality. Nothing could help us more with respect to these future challenges than solving this problem."

Thursday's debate was the second concerning a voter-approved initiative that limits number of housing starts in Carson Valley to 280 a year.

After the Sustainable Growth Initiative passed in November 2002, Jumpers LLC and Douglas County appealed in District Court, where Judge Michael Gibbons ruled against it.

That decision was appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court which remanded the voter-approved cap to District Court.

An injunction has been placed on implementation of that initiative, which is tied up in the courts.

District Attorney Scott Doyle suggested a 2-percent cap on building permits in February, linked to a base housing inventory.

During Thursday's debate, residents' appeals were emotional, pitting Realtors and developers against members of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee.

The committee encouraged commissioners to adopt a 2 percent growth rate proposed by county officials as an interim ordinance to bridge the gap until November 2008, when a permanent measure could be placed on the ballot.

Growth limits have been on the table since 1994 and now is the time to act, said Sustainable Growth members Judy Sturgis and John Garvin in a letter to commissioners.

Realtor Rob Wigton said the issue comes down to politics and members of the Sustainable Growth Committee are practicing the worst kind - the politics of exclusion.

"SGI has been both prolific and savvy in getting the local paper to print their letters time and again," he said. "They say we have ours, you cannot have yours. Hard-working property owners don't have the right to build and the area's young and nonwealthy don't have a chance of living here.

"The county would survive on limited building and apparently, the economy would keep working with smoke and mirrors," Wigton said.

Peter Beekhof of the Douglas County Building Association opposed an interim constraint on growth without a study to determine the economic impacts.

"It's your job to make sure economic welfare of whole county is considered, not the wishes of one special interest group," he told commissioners.

"I'm amused when a Realtor and a builder refer to the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee as a special interest group," said Jim Slade, an advocate for growth controls. "SGI represents the will of majority, not a special interest group.

"The county should control the rate of growth. Uncontrolled growth makes it difficult for the county to keep up with infrastructure needs."

Growth limits would have to be balanced against many issues, including the pending results of a U. S. Geologic Survey to determine the amount of water available for development in Carson Valley.

The county has shouldered debt for infrastructure improvements based on growth projections. Curbing growth could mean the county would have to refinance or adjust the rate structure pledged to repay outstanding debt, according to Doyle.

Douglas County resident Jim Herd said the county should not depend on income from new development to pay for what is needed today.

"I came from Britain 25 years ago," he said. "There was no growth there, but people enjoy life and have a good time. Growth is not a necessity."

Residents need to define a vision for their children and grandchildren, then figure out how to achieve that goal, Herd said.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," he said. "Plenty of communities face the same issues and a lot of them are successful."

Another discussion and possible action related to a growth rate program will be addressed at the March 16 county commission meeting.

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


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