County picks 2-percent growth cap

A 2-percent compounded growth cap was introduced by Douglas County commissioners on a 3-1 vote Thursday, the approval subject to more scrutiny and adjustments in the coming months.

The measure requires a second reading and more deliberation could be necessary, county officials told a room filled with residents, attorneys, business owners and proponents of a Douglas County growth cap.

Commission Chairman Doug Johnson said he was happy and relieved to have the ordinance approved, even though the debate isn't over.

"This is just an introduction," Johnson said. "We can discuss the absolutes next month, but we needed to get something on the books."

Under the ordinance, which covers everything from banking and borrowing permits to exemptions, the base year for determination of population growth would be the 2000 national census. If enacted, it would limit the number of permits outside the Tahoe Basin in 2007 to 317.

Existing approved subdivisions, planned developments and specific plans are included under the permit cap with flexibility provided to the timing of construction.

Those would be incorporated into the total number of permits allowed for any given year. For example, the proposed number of permits for the first year is reduced by 137, bringing the total available for other projects to 148.

Amortized over 50 years, the plan would allow a total of 26,828 building permits through the year 2056. About 4,778 building permits previously approved through development agreements and vested parcels are included, according to county figures.

A five-year review process is included in the ordinance, which will be placed on the ballot for the upcoming 2008 election.

The 2-percent compounded figure was selected over other options, including compounded rates as high as 3.5 percent and a flat rate of 280 homes per year, as approved by voters in November of 2002.

The new ordinance would be placed on the ballot for the upcoming 2002 election, and include the repeal of the 2002 question.

An injunction was granted to developers to prevent the implementation of the 280-home cap right after it was approved and the legal wrangling has been going on ever since.

Commissioner Jim Baushke said the growth cap should be set as close as possible to that 280 figure to garner support. A court case is still pending and deliberations between developers, businessmen and those supporting the 280 cap over the past year have not led to any solid conclusions.

It is now time for the board of commissioners to make that decision, Baushke said.

"The Supreme Court upheld the (2002) vote," he said. "That's what we're facing. But I won't vote for any ordinance that destroys the economic well-being of citizens here. We can't afford to do that and it's not right."

Commissioner Kelly Kite, who has expressed concerns over the possibility of litigation if a growth cap is imposed in Douglas County, cast the one dissenting vote. He called the proposed growth cap an "attorney's retirement fund."

"The way to control growth in Douglas County is through the transfer development rights program," he said. "If you build a house, you save an acre. No exemptions, and that won't take a 60-pound ordinance."

Transfer development rights trade the right to concentrate development in designated receiving areas for easements that will preserve other lands, primarily ranch lands in Douglas County, in perpetuity.

Baushke said transfer development rights are a very important tool, but not the only one needed to control growth and preserve open space in Douglas County.

Judy Sturgis, co-chair of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee, said about 39,820 transfer development rights are available and under Kite's formula, that could mean the same number of homes would be built in Carson Valley.

"Multiply 39,000 transfer development rights by 2.5 people per household, and you get another 99,000 people in Carson Valley," she said. "Added to the current population, that brings the total to 144,000. That defeats your (Kelly Kite's) idea."

Copies of the ordinance may be obtained at the County Clerk's office on the first floor of the MInden Inn, 1594 Esmeralda Ave. in Minden.

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


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