Commissioners torpedo Park project 4-1

In the end, promises of open space, community facilities, retained water rights, jobs, workforce housing and other amenities weren't enough to offset the proposed addition of 4,500 houses in Carson Valley in 40 years.

After nearly five hours of debate and public comment, Douglas County commissioners voted 4-1 late Thursday to deny a land use request from Park Cattle Co. to change more than 1,200 acres from agriculture to receiving area.

Commissioners said they rejected the Park Ranch project because it failed to conform to the master plan, allegations the plan's proponents refuted.

"There are a lot of positive elements, but there are negative elements, too," said Mimi Moss, the county's director of community development.

"It provides a long-range, 50-year plan " the biggest in the history of Carson Valley. But how do you set a plan in place for future boards and residents?" she asked. "The board needs to weigh all the provisions of the application " the good and the bad. It's a balancing act."

Moss reminded commissioners a single negative finding was enough to deny the project.

In its report, county staff pointed out when the county passed the growth management ordinance in 2007, adopted Tuesday by voters, there were 4,767 recorded and unrecorded lots in vested subdivision.

"These lots may record and build out at any time; they are not subject to the allocation system," the report said.

Engineer Rob Anderson, representing Park Cattle, offered a list of endorsements for the plan including Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, the East Fork Fire & Paramedic Employees Association, The Nature Conservancy, University of Nevada, Reno, and other supporters.

"This land represents the most critical and important open space in Carson Valley," Anderson said. "We have not seen a project in the state of Nevada of this magnitude."

Chairman Kelly Kite was the only commissioner to support the project.

"I want to support this project. I want to come out of Johnson Lane and not see brown," Kite said.

He said his participation in the annual Eagles and Agriculture tour had reinforced how important it was to keep water with the land.

"The water belongs to the ranchers. Once it's gone, it ain't never coming back," Kite said.

Reports have estimated Park Cattle could sell its water rights for $200 million.

Commissioner Doug Johnson said there were positives with the proposal, but he had an obligation to represent the public.

"We have to make a decision that represents the public even if we don't agree with it," Johnson said.

He added that his decision also was influenced by the overwhelming majority of voters who supported the county's growth management ordinance Tuesday.

People started showing up at commission chambers at 4 p.m. to offer public comment and hear the debate which didn't begin until 6:45 p.m. By 9 p.m., when public comment opened, about 60 people crowded the room with the overflow in the hall outside the chambers.

More than two dozen people took the microphone with support and opposition about evenly split.

"I suspect Park's only intention here is to upgrade their land values, then sell it off," said John Garvin, co-chairman of the Sustainable Growth Committee. "If you approve this, voters will be very unhappy to find out the growth ordinance they just approved is a sham management tool."

Hal Hansen, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Carson Valley, said he was overwhelmed by the Park Cattle offer to build a community center and donate $500,000 in design services to build the new facility.

"I am humbled by the generosity of Park Cattle and what they want to do in the multigenerational center," he said.

Michelle Martin, who said she represented "the younger generation of citizens," told the commission Carson Valley would look like Double Diamond in Reno if the plan were approved.

"Why would you take away and destroy (agricultural) land that draws people here? Why would we commit to 4,500 homes when we don't even know if we would like the first 50?" she asked.

Rancher Clarence Burr told commissioners his family and the Parks date back to the 1800s.

Rather than characterizing the Parks as "greedy," Burr said, "The Park family busted their butts to get what they have today. Park stepped up (in 1995) and bought that property."

Burr said organizations such as the Sustainable Growth Committee "expect me and my family to keep this Valley green for them. I am no longer a rancher. I am a holding company.

"We are not going to get this water, people, unless you take this offer. I want to keep the Valley green, but the bottom line is water goes with the land. Whether you like this plan or not, I want you to approve it," he said.

Russell Scossa, also a rancher, said he agreed with Burr, but he still had questions.

"I think you need to go slow," Scossa said. "It's easier to give than it is to take back. It's a great project in some ways, but not all the questions have been answered."

Mike Bradford, owner and chief executive officer of the Lakeside Inn casino at Stateline, urged commissioners to support the project.

"It's said to hear that somehow the Parks are sinister or evil," he said. "It's not that kind of organization."

"My fear is that if the project is not feasible, this land will be liquidated parcel by parcel to smaller developers who cannot deliver those benefits.

"Park needs success down here (the Valley) to have success up at the Lake. At the Lake, Park is the sleeping giant. It's a very kind, benevolent giant to have and we should help them," Bradford said.

Jody Laxague, who has operated Laxague Feed & Supply with her husband John for 29 year, said she had a petition against the proposal signed by 57 people in four days.

"This enormous master plan change helps no ranchers other than the Parks. If they are given this huge development, when us smaller or middle-size ranchers try to get a project through, it will be impossible," she said.

In September, commissioners David Brady and Johnson voted to deny the project, but their colleagues Kite, Jim Baushke and Nancy McDermid sought a continuance.

On Thursday, McDermid said she was saddened more of a compromise wasn't reached.

"There are so many things about his project I dearly love," she said. "There are, perhaps, modifications that could be made, that could be acceptable. That they haven't been to this point deeply saddens me."

Park Chief Executive Officer Brad Nelson said after the meeting he didn't know if the company would resubmit the proposal.

"We'll discuss it and decide what to do," Nelson said.


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