Call for unity in growth cap debate |

Call for unity in growth cap debate

by Susie Vasquez

County commissioners did not decide on a rate for the much-debated growth ordinance, but there was a call for unity at a special joint meeting with planning commissioners Thursday in Minden.

“When it comes to growth, we in Douglas County stop being good people and start going at each other’s throats,” said planning commissioner Mike Olson. “We have to come together and make this work, not look for reasons why it won’t work.”

Planning commissioner Margaret Pross, who advocated a 2-percent compounded rate as suggested by former District Attorney Scott Doyle, agreed with Olson.

“We must do what’s best for the county as a whole and put our personal feelings aside. I challenge you to do the same thing,” Pross said. “We need to ask ourselves if this is something we can live with. We’re not here to settle, defend, or engage in a lawsuit. We’re here to implement the master plan as it should have been done.”

A growth cap suggested in the 1996 Douglas County master plan has never been implemented.

Voters subsequently approved a 280-home growth cap in November 2002, but an injunction was granted to developers that prevented implementation. The legal wrangling has been ongoing.

Commissioners are expected to adopt a growth ordinance this spring, a measure that has profound implications for Carson Valley.

For example, a 3.5 percent compounded growth rate in Carson Valley means the population could swell from current estimates of about 50,000, to more than 200,000 by 2050.

In addition to a flat rate of 280 homes per year, caps between 2 and 3.5 percent are being considered.

County commissioner Jim Baushke said he would like to approve a cap that is fair and equitable for all concerned, the developers and those who approved a growth cap in 2002.

He would like approve a limit as close to the 280 homes approved in 2002 as possible and protect local developers who do quality work.

“They are the foundation, the pillar of our economy,” Baushke said. “The trade-off will be coming as close as we can to what the voters approved.”

The slumping housing market has done much to curb growth in the area. Just 100 building permits have been drawn this year, a drastic reduction from previous years when the market was booming, Baushke said.

An average of 580 building permits were issued annually for single-family homes from 1990 to 2006, according to county records.

“The economy has taken care of the problem for the time being,” Baushke said. “We may not issue 200 permits this year. My hope, is that we can come up with a solution that protects our people here in the meantime.”

Commissioner Kelly Kite said a strong mandatory development rights program would protect agricultural land from development in perpetuity, but the existing development rights program is not strong enough.

Agriculture is key to preservation of the rural open spaces we all enjoy and the preservation of one acre of ag land should be mandatory for each home built, Kite said.

Carson Valley ranchers own 70 percent of the water rights and if they sell out, those rights will go elsewhere. Ranchers’ irrigation systems also provide flood mitigation and the same irrigated lands provide the recharge so critical to Carson Valley’s aquifer, Kite said.

“Once the agricultural land is gone, there will be no flood mitigation,” he said. “Reno is paying $750 million to get back what we have here now. That will be the cost if we lose our ag lands.”

The growth ordinance debate has been continued to the April 5 commissioners meeting.

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