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Board approves affordable housing

by Sharon Carter

Douglas County commissioners Thursday ended more than seven months of wrangling and an on-going legal battle when they approved a 300-unit planned development for south Gardnerville.

“We did this because it was the right thing to do,” Commissioner Bernie Curtis said after the unanimous vote. “We need affordable housing. It wasn’t to settle a lawsuit, that wasn’t and isn’t our concern.”

In Thursday’s action, county commissioners approved Oakwood Companies’ planned development application which proposes to build 148 single-family homes, 72 townhouses and 80 apartments on 55 acres near Elges Lane and Highway 395.

The Oakwood plan incorporates Picerne Development’s Crestmore Village affordable apartment complex, originally a 40-unit project which the Douglas County Planning commission approved, but both the town of Gardnerville and the county commission denied in March, citing concerns about devaluing the Elges neighborhood and undermining the county master plan. Crestmore was subsequently the subject of a lawsuit and a federal fair housing complaint Picerne brought against the county.

In June, developer Bob Lomas of The Affordable Housing Group of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who had originally optioned the entire 58-acre property on east Elges and spun off five acres to Picerne, suggested Crestmore and his Oakwood project be brought before the Carson Valley governing boards as a single planned development.

After working with county planning staff and town of Gardnerville engineers periodically throughout the summer and early fall, Oakwood representatives brought the joint project before Gardnerville town officials, who approved it in October.

Continuing the “Perils-of-Pauline” scenario which had characterized Crestmore’s progression, the Douglas County Planning Commission approved the development at its October meeting, but stipulated that while lot sizes for the single-family homes could be no smaller than 8,000 square feet, the development must maintain 25 percent open space – a requirement which conflicted with the town’s recommendation of reduced open space and which would cut the number of single-family homes to a point where the project would not pencil out financially.

Planning Commissioner Valida McMichael, who attended Thursday’s meeting said planning officials had been worried about setting precedents.

“(Our) concern was what they (the next developers) will be asking for next time,” McMichael said.

Gardnerville Town Board Chairman Tom Cook also addressed county officials, repeating the town’s desire that the development’s open space be reduced. He characterized the relative proximity of the development to public lands and both Lampe and Stodick parks as “a stone’s throw” away.

“We (the town) can’t afford to maintain the open space we have,” Cook said. “We don’t want something more to mow or tax people for. Don’t straddle us with something we can’t take care of.”

In seeking a middle ground, county officials opted to tie the development’s open space requirements to the affordability component of its single-family homes. Essentially, if half of the homes are designated “affordable,” the development’s 25-percent open space requirement would be reduced by half.

“And I have no problem waiving 100 percent of the open space requirements for affordability,” Commissioner Kelly Kite said.

The decision met with general approval from all sides.

“It means we’ve got a project,” Chris New of Picerne Development said. “In order to meet our federal timelines, we’ll be moving forward to get the plans approved and the permitting done. We’ll need to break ground by mid-March.”

“It was touch and go for a while,” Bob Lomas added. “But we have a project.”

Gardnerville resident Vic Bergstrom, who had vehemently opposed the Crestmore project, said Thursday he believed the Oakwood development was something the neighborhood could live with.

Bill Huss, Picerne’s attorney who had brought forward the Crestmore lawsuit, said he believed Thursday’s action would produce long-term benefits for the entire community.

“It is a resolution which nourishes all parties,” Huss said. “We’ll file to dismiss the lawsuit.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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