Growth cap approved

Douglas County history was made Thursday when a 2-percent compounded growth cap was approved for residential permits by the Board of Commissioners. The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Kelly Kite dissenting.

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

Buildout, 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 commissioners an edge when planning for the future, said Commissioner Jim Baushke.

"This ordinance is not going to solve all our problems, but it gives us time to get on to other problems we have to address," he said.

A total of 317 allocations will be granted the first year, that number increasing over the life of the plan. The banking and borrowing of permits is designed to accommodate larger developers who need additional permits in a given year, but the total number of permits allocated in the 50-year life of the plan will remain constant.

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

"We had the opportunity to settle in a courthouse or as a community and I'm thrilled, with how the stakeholders came together," he said. "They raised the level of public debate and discussed the solutions in a respectful, professional manner. That shows me this community can come together. I'd like to thank everyone."

In February of last year, a Supreme Court decision reversed a District Court ruling against Douglas County's voter-approved 280-home limit, known as the Sustainable Growth Initiative.

The Supreme Court remanded the debate 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.

Scott Doyle, Douglas County's District Attorney at the time, suggested a 2-percent cap on growth in Douglas County, linked to a base housing inventory. The cap approved Thursday is based on the 2000 National Census for the population outside of the Tahoe Basin.

Kite, who adamantly opposes the ordinance, said the motivation for passage was to put that litigation behind us. The ordinance violates the laws of supply and demand.

Opponents will be filing lawsuits by Monday, he said.

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

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 (ordinance) gives us something we can live with so the courts won't assign us an ordinance."

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


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