Growth cap proposal gets lukewarm reception

by Susie Vasquez

Staff Writer

Douglas County residents saw the first draft for building permit allocations in Douglas County that suggests the growth rate between 2 and 3.5 percent. The gorilla in the room, however, was the 2,600 dwelling units already approved that can be built with or without that cap.

"Our committee didn't know about the huge backlog of projects," said John Garvin, co-chair of the Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee.

If the cap is set at 2 percent, the number of building permits for homes would be 311 in 2007. Assuming a 10-year buildout, an additional 260 homes could be built and the number would be well over 500, Garvin noted.

"We can't call that effective growth control," he said.

The proposal, which will be scrutinized by both residents and county officials, was unveiled at Tuesday's meeting of the Douglas County planning commission, complete with a comprehensive outline including everything from pre-existing development agreements to the transfer of these building permit allocations.

Board members listened quietly and the tone was subdued as residents aired their concerns.

The cap proposes the percentage be compounded annually, based on the rate of population growth and number of persons per household, which is set at 2.5 per the 2000 census.

Terry Burnes, a retired Bay Area urban planner, said compounding would allow the number of permits to increase annually, but as growth in the valley approaches its limits with respect to resources and other factors, that growth should be slowed.

"As you drive up to the wall, you want to slow down so the impact isn't as great," he said.

Compounding the number of dwelling units would more than double the allocation contemplated by that voter-approved cap. He favors the flat rate of 280 residential building permits approved by voters in 2002, he said.

"At this point, this is as much about democracy as it is growth," Burnes said. "I worked in planning for 30 yrs and dealt with voter-approved initiatives, but it never occured to me that the county government would actively fight a voter-approved initiative."

Voters passed the Sustainable Growth Initiative, which would limit the number of housing permits issued in Douglas County to 280 a year, in November of 2002.

Developers filed legal actions to stop the county from implementing the initiative and ultimately, Douglas County officials joined developers in their opposition of the initiative,

A series of court rulings and legal wranglings followed and in February of 2006, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a decision by District Court that vetoed the Initiative. The Supreme Court returned the case to District Court for trial and in the interim, Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle proposed a 2 percent growth cap, one of the alternatives before the planning commission this week.

The county's efforts are underway as a separate track, apart from litigation involving the Sustainable Growth Initiative.

If approved as written, building permit allocations would be released quarterly. Any subdivision of more than four units may apply for project status, which will make it eligible for banking and borrowing of allocations.

County officials and others have urged a delay on the decision until water and transportation studies are completed, but Douglas County resident David Nelson disagrees.

"(Deputy District Attorney) Tom Perkins recommended we wait for those studies, but that's not what the Supreme Court said," Nelson said. "They stated that the initiative is legal and should be upheld."

He said waiting for the studies is a sore point, and irrelevant.

"We must get this going and make it happen. I'd like to see the 280 cap approved this time," he said. "Don't fight the people."

A second public meeting with both the planning commission and board of commissioners is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb.1 at the CVIC Hall, 1602 Esmeralda St. in Minden.

A decision should come this spring, according to county officials.

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


A copy of Douglas County's building allocation draft can be viewed at the Sustainable Growth Committee's Web site,, or the Good Government Group of Douglas County's Web site,


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