Citing concerns that development could get out of hand, Douglas County's commissioners expressed concerns about a measure that could exempt ranchers from the county's growth cap, provided they cluster their developments.
"We provided a density bonus for ranchers. To exempt them from the building permit allocation system skirts the intent of the growth ordinance. I have a problem with that," said Commissioner David Brady. "The unintended consequences have not been thought out fully and could have wide-ranging effects."
In an effort to preserve open space and encourage ranching in Carson Valley, commissioners approved a ranch heritage ordinance in January, giving ranchers the right to increase their allotment for clustered development on agricultural parcels, the number of homes they can develop, by 150 percent. In exchange, the balance of the property, or 70 percent, is to be held in a conservation easement and the water rights are tied to the land.
The ranch heritage parcel provision was approved in January and in February, a proposal was introduced that would exempt ranchers from Douglas County's building allotment, an additional perk.
Ranch heritage parcels are designated for ranching property, specifically zoned for agricultural or forest-and-range uses, but a proposal by Park Cattle Co. to develop 3,200 acres west of Minden and another another 1,300 acres east of Highway 395, has some commissioners edgy.
Park Cattle has not committed to any specific number of homes for the development.
"The exemption for building permit allocations raises an eyebrow for me," said Commissioner Doug Johnson.
"Park Cattle is a developer, not a rancher," said Douglas County resident Jim Slade. "Clustering could be eight or 600 units, and I don't think they should be exempt from the allocation process."
No one argues against the advantages of clustering, Slade said questions exempting ranchers from the allocation process.
"Are we exempting them from the allocation process so they don't have to stand in line, or are we exempting them from the growth cap," he said. "That's unclear."
Local rancher Patricia Settelmeyer said to succeed, many ranchers must rob Peter to pay Paul and at some point, there will be nothing to rob.
"I'm trying to keep my family on our land, raise cattle and earn a decent living," she said. "If I can sell a few small parcels to keep us going that's good, but I don't owe anyone open space.
"If I have to sell water rights I will," she said. "That's not a threat. That's a promise."
"This (ranch heritage ordinance) is about getting the ranching community to tie the water to the ground," said local rancher J.B. Lekumberry. "This proposal gets ranchers, regardless of the economic climate, to the front of the line."
Commissioner Kelly Kite defended the ranchers' position, saying the agricultural lands are important to recharging the aquifer and keeping the river going.
"This is about the water, but it's also about someone taking care of the land," he said. "We're talking about giving up 100 acres and 60 houses to put 900 acres in an easement."
Commissioner Jim Baushke said the county needs to do something to help ranchers preserve the flood plain for everyone.
"If that river floods and there's no flood plain the water will end up in your homes," he said.
"It's important we take care of of this properly, but we're in no position to make a final judgement," he said. "We have to work out a compromise."
Commissioners voted 4-1 to reconsider that issue employing some sort of new compromise, within 90 days. Commissioner Kelly Kite cast the one dissenting vote.
Two other provisions in the ordinance, one eliminating allocations for the conversion of a manufactured home to real estate and another allowing the extension of a pre existing development agreement without requiring them to participate in the allocation process when the county participates in improvements of regional significance, were approved.
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Douglas County's new growth ordinance limits residential permits to 317 allocations for the first year. The 2-percent compounded growth cap was approved by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners last June, a cooperative effort ending a protracted and divisive debate that had lasted for years.
The new growth ordinance has seen no real challenges since its passage, but the national real estate bust has played a role.