County approves growth cap

Douglas County commissioners approved a historic 2-percent compounded growth cap 4-1 on Thursday night.

Commissioners lauded the cooperative effort required to reach any consensus on this hot-button issue, but voiced serious concerns about other issues that have not been addressed because of the time and effort dedicated to formulating the growth cap.

Build-out, which is now set at 26,812 homes over the 50-year life of the plan, is inevitable, but stabilizing the growth rate will give the county an edge when planning for the future, according to Commissioner Jim Baushke.

"The biggest advantage to a stable groth rate is that it gives us a long-term basis for planning," he said. "This ordinance is not going to solve all our probems, but it gives us time to get on to other problems we now have to address."

At 10 a.m. the courtroom of the Douglas County Administration Building was filled with developers, residents and attorneys awaiting a decision, but the crowd had dwindled considerably by the time that decision was made, around 7 p.m.

Commissioner David Brady said the cap sets a reasonable growth rate that provides for orderly development. He lauded county staff the people of Douglas County, who spent countless hours working toward a resolution, for their efforts.

"Fourteen months ago we sat in this room discussing growth and it was packed," he said. "We had the opportunity to settle in a courthouse or as a community and I'm thrilled, with how the stakeholders came together.

"They raised the level of public debate and discussed the solutions in a respectful, professional manner," Brady said. "That shows me this community can come together and I'd like to thank everyone."

Following a Supreme Court decision reversing a District Court ruling against a voter-approved 280-home limit, the Sustainable Growth Initiative in February of last year, then-District Attorney Scott Doyle suggested a 2-percent cap on growth in Douglas County, linked to a base housing inventory.

The approved cap is based on the 2000 National Census for the population outside the Tahoe Basin.

The supreme court remanded the debate back to district court, who in turn gave Douglas County time to resolve the issue on its own before making a ruling. At that point county officials could create their own ordinance, or leave the decision to district court.

Commissioner Kelly Kite, who adamantly opposes the ordinance, said the motivation for passage was to put that litigation behind us. The ordinance violates the law of supply and demand and opponents will be filing lawsuits by Monday, he said.

"This ordinance does nothing to protect recharge or create a flood protection zone, and the worst, is passing and ordinance for sake of passing an ordinance," he said. "I don't support this in any way, shape or form. This undermines the foundation this country was built on."

Commissioner Nancy McDermid said the free market should not be regulated and market forces have done more than anything else to slow growth, but as written, the ordinance shouldn't have a substantial negative impact on citizens or the county.

"It's time for a decision and I'm in favor of orderly development," she said. "Hodgepodge developments cause problems."

By approving the cap commissioners repealed Question 4, an initiative passed by the voters in 2002 limiting the growth rate to 280 homes a year. The growth cap has never been enforced in Douglas County, due primarily to the legal injunctions filed by developers and Douglas County officials.

Some question the ability of the commission to repeal a voter-approved initiative, but District Attorney Mark Jackson told commissioners they were on firm legal ground.

"For all intents and purposes, if you approve the ordinance, you have repealed it (the 280-home cap)," he said.

"The Board can pass an ordinance that effectively repeals another ordinance and once passed, it has the dignity of a board resolution," said Deputy District Attorney Bob Morris. "My feeling is, you are legally authorized to go forward."

Commissioner David Brady said a repeal of the ordinance may be legal, but commissioners are sending a message to the people that their vote supporting the Sustainable Growth Initiative doesn't count.

"From the beginning, the overriding objective is to build on past efforts, initiatives and wills," said Commissioner Jim Baushke. "We've been elected to represent everyone. This gives us something we can live with so the courts won't assign us an ordinance."

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