County leaders shy away from open space involvement | RecordCourier.com
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County leaders shy away from open space involvement

by Christy Chalmers

A private coalition wants Douglas County’s help with a campaign to preserve open space, but leaders say the government shouldn’t get involved.

The contradictions surfaced Thursday as coalition representatives presented a report on two workshops held earlier in the year to form strategies for balancing open space preservation with the economic realities of keeping it open.

Dave Bolick, executive director of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and a member of the open space group, pitched a series of options to the county commission.

One involved a county-funded survey to see how much Carson Valley residents are willing to pay to preserve open space.

Another was to form an advisory committee to the commission that would make recommendations on open space issues and complete a strategic plan for open space preservation.

The committee also recommended seeking a planner with expertise in planning for open space when the county adds to its planning staff. The commissioners agreed to consider the request in September, and they said County Manager Dan Holler can act as a liaison if the group wants to develop a strategic plan.

But the commission resisted the request to sanction an advisory committee. If the county creates one, it would be subject to open meeting laws and the county would have to provide a secretary to record meeting minutes, as well as other support.

The commissioners emphasized they are pleased with the group’s work, but said they fear county involvement could doom the project by adding a perception of government meddling.

“I don’t want it driven by this government. I want it driven by the people in this committee, otherwise it’s going to fail,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis.

He suggested the county planning commission would be a good partner instead.

Others said more publicity is needed before asking Douglas residents to fund open space preservation.

“I think the work that’s been ongoing out in the community needs to continue,” said Commissioner Steve Weissinger.

Commissioner Don Miner agreed, saying public opinion needs to be shaped in favor of open space, with a focus on the benefits.

“I think there has to be a little more homework, a little more options,” he said. “I think there is absolutely support here, if it’s done the right way.”

Bolick said he was satisfied with the commission’s reaction, but Ame Hellman of the American Land Conservancy said she would prefer a stronger commitment from the county.

“I just don’t feel like you guys are committed to moving forward,” she said, adding that a survey could help publicize the issue. “Take it seriously.”

“We are committed toward an open space plan,” said Miner. “It’s a question of who’s going to pay for it.”

Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen said the county needs to be “more supportive” of the effort, noting he’s rarely seen such cooperation among a private coalition.