Coalition turns open space plan over to county | RecordCourier.com
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Coalition turns open space plan over to county

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County staffers will finish the open space preservation plan that a semi-private coalition started.

The county commissioners agreed Thursday that the plan needs more detail if voters are to be asked in November for a tax increase to pay for preserving open space. After a lengthy debate over how to balance public resources with a citizen-led effort, they agreed that even if a tax hike isn’t approved, the plan will still be useful.

“We’re going to need this no matter what the outcome,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis.

Commissioner Kelly Kite said the finished plan must be comprehensive.

“I think we don’t need to talk any longer about whether we’re going to do this. I think we need to talk about how,” he said.

The coalition, consisting of Carson Valley residents, business leaders and ranchers, presented a draft plan that summarizes many of the philosophies and goals listed in the 1996 master plan about the value of preserving undeveloped land. It also includes some suggestions, such as acquiring conservation easements, in which willing landowners are paid to not develop their property.

The plan doesn’t include details like specific funding methods, how to choose which properties would be targeted for preservation or how to administer the program. The commissioners said they want the county planning staff to establish guidelines handling those issues. Workshops will be held as the work progresses, and the county will probably adopt the plan when it is finished.

Ame Hellman, chairwoman of the county planning commission, a member of the coalition and a supporter of open space preservation, said she was pleased with the action.

“I think we’re fortunate to be able to develop the plan now instead of after the fact,” said Hellman. “It’s a chance to develop a really good plan.”

The action takes the coalition out of the picture temporarily. The group won’t be working on the details, but may assume a lobbying role as the November election approaches.

Three possible funding sources for preserving open space have been suggested: A quarter-cent sales tax hike, a 1-cent property tax hike and a one-tenth of 1 percent real estate transfer tax.

A committee will be appointed May 18 to write arguments for and against each proposal. The county commission will probably choose one to send to voters.

The coalition has recommended the quarter-cent sales tax. Its leader, Dave Bolick, said Thursday the sales tax could generate $30 million over 30 years, which could provide a third of the $90 million the coalition thinks would be necessary to buy development rights on 30,000 acres of ranch land in Carson Valley.

Bolick said the $90 million figure is based on an estimated development value of $3,000 per acre of ranch land, though he acknowledged the numbers may change.

“We had to start somewhere,” he noted.

The coalition also thinks federal and private grants and donations could each provide $30 million over 30 years.

Public and private attention has been focused on open space preservation throughout the past year. Private groups have held workshops to gauge Douglas County residents’ interest in preserving open land, and the county planning commission held a series of meetings and surveyed people about their opinions on undeveloped land.

More recently, a privately-funded poll of 400 residents concluded that 59 percent of the respondents would support a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for open space.