Zoning to accommodate mixed use considered

Douglas County officials are considering amending the zoning ordinances to encourage mixed-use commercial development, a concept designed to reduce traffic, preserve open space and provide affordable housing.

In a mixed-use community, businesses, restaurants, theaters and homes are within easy walking distance, much like any traditional American town, according to Gardnerville Town Manager Jim Park.

"Before World War II, the meat and the grocery stores were down the street," he said. "People didn't need a car then, but with urban sprawl they were forced to be auto-oriented."

He said the concept is an excellent fit in Gardnerville, especially for in-fill properties, and the town's citizens advisory committee welcomed the idea.

"The folks want mixed use. They want Gardnerville put together so we're not so dependent on vehicles," he said. "I believe this is another tool that will assist with economic revitalization of the Highway 395 core through both Gardnerville and Minden."

Mixed-use developments have been criticized for not integrating the different uses well. Often the location of parking lots and buffers makes walking from one use to another unpleasant.

The key is good design and the proper language in county ordinances can encourage that design, according to a report by the National Association of Home Builders.

"If each development must go through a complex and costly process of obtaining special waivers and approvals, developers will probably find it makes more business sense to keep building large-lot subdivisions.

"Narrower street widths, varied yard setbacks, alternative stormwater and wastewater systems, and altered approaches to utility installation may all need to be considered to make compact development possible and successful," the report said.

Compact development also reduces costs through more efficient use of infrastructure, making housing more affordable, the report said.

Keith Ruben, a planner with R.O. Anderson Engineering, said multiple-use communities could be a more cost-effective alternative to county-funded redevelopment.

Park said Gardnerville would have to go into debt to fund redevelopment and that could be a problem.

"Douglas County's redevelopment is paying its own way with good improvements, but we don't have the room in Gardnerville," he said. "Big box stores don't work in smaller historic areas and we have other priorities, like streets and parks, to take care of first."

The aversion to higher densities in this country has legitimate historic roots.

Overcrowding of working class and poor people in American cities in the 19th and 20th centuries lead to deplorable conditions and high disease rates, but lack of proper sanitation and poverty, not crowding, were the primary culprits, according to the Home Builder's report.

Zoning was established to separate different uses that create nuisances, such as separating factories from residences, but today most workplaces are clean and quiet and can be built closer to homes without adverse affects.

"The problem with many American communities is not too much density, but not enough density. Higher density housing presents opportunities for having more walkable communities because with enough people living in a small area, neighborhood shopping and schools within walking distance become financially feasible. And it is well understood that higher densities are needed if good transit service is to be feasible," the report said.

Tuesday's zoning amendment proposal at the Douglas County Planning Commission included developments with 75 percent multi-family housing and 25 commercial development and 45-ft height restrictions, in addition to 80 percent multi-family with 20 percent commercial and 60-foot height restrictions.

The planning commission continued the issue to next month, to allow time for revisions and give the public an opportunity to comment.

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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