Smart growth backs flexible cap

A growth cap ordinance should provide the flexibility to protect the economic viability and quality of life as it exists. That is the conclusion of a report by Meridian Business Advisors concerning the much-debated growth cap in Douglas County.

Spokesman Lynn Hettrick said a 3 percent cap, which is lower than the historic average, would be reasonable. Building permits have risen an average of 3.3 percent from 1996 to 2005, according to the Meridian report.

"We need to give county commissioners flexibility and a number somewhat higher than 280," Hettrick said. "We need a happy medium to maintain the quality of life here."

The report was issued to members of the coalition on Thursday night.

Voters passed the Sustainable Growth Initiative, which limits the number of housing permits issued in Douglas County to 280 a year, in November of 2002. A series of court rulings and legal wranglings followed, leading to the current debate being heard by county commissioners.

The Coalition for Smart Growth initiated the Meridian report, part of an effort to compromise and reach an attainable growth cap in Douglas County.

The study considers 2.5 and 3.5 percent growth caps on residences, as well as the 280-permit limit approved by voters in 2002. Due to numerous legal challenges, the latter has never been realized.

A 280-permit cap, which represents an annual growth rate of about 1.1 percent in the population, would require up to $124 million in either new taxes or service cuts, according to Meridian.

A growth cap limiting the number of new homes to 2.5 percent annually would reduce that need by up to $33 million and a 3.5 percent growth cap would reduce that need by $55 million, according to the Meridian report.

"Growth won't solve all the problems, but it will mitigate some of them," Hettrick said.

Gaming revenues in Douglas County are dropping slowly, Hettrick said.

"Tourism pays for 40 percent of everything in Nevada and for Clark County that's wonderful," Hettrick said. "But our tourism is fixed, while theirs is exploding."

The 3 percent property tax cap has seriously affected revenues from property taxes, unlike the previous 10 years when an increase in assessments has led to increased revenues for Douglas County's base budget, Hettrick said.

Adding to the problems, is the fact that Douglas County has no business license fees.

"Businesses and residents pay utility and sales taxes, but in the end the consumer pays, no matter where the fees are assessed," he said.

Nevada's tax system depends on growth and revenues from both property and sales taxes, he said.

"We received an increase in revenues with development of retail in north Douglas County, but Carson City is coming back with WalMart on the north end," Hettrick said.

Growth at Lake Tahoe is restricted through the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and no substantial change in population is expected at the Lake, according to the report.

Just 80 residential building permits have been issued in Douglas County in the last six months due in part to the slumping housing market. Because the existing tax cap does not allow for reassessment of homes after they've been sold, people will buy rather than build new homes to avoid an increase in property taxes, Hettrick said.

A slow growth policy that allowed construction on 19-acre lots would constitute a growth cap failure. A policy that promotes clustering and an infill on existing urban lots would allow faster growth and promote economic viability, Hettrick said.

A political action committee registered with the secretary of state' s office, Douglas County's Coalition for Smart Growth consists of residents and business owners. The coalition supports a residential growth cap consistent with the master plan, according to information from their Web site.

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


There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to growth in Douglas County. The growth cap will be the topic at a two-hour joint meeting of the Douglas County board of commissioners and planning commission, 6 p.m. Thursday at the CVIC Hall, 1602 Esmeralda St. in Minden.


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