County will contract with development rights expert to jump-start program |

County will contract with development rights expert to jump-start program

by Jeff Munson

Douglas County leaders agreed Thursday to hire a consultant to counsel them on open space and land use policies.

The decision came after two hours of discussion about the county’s transfer of development rights program, established in 1996, which has yet to be used.

County planners have recommended changes to the TDR program, which encourages developers to build homes on property targeted in the master plan for growth, while leaving rural areas open.

Planners maintain the current TDR program is not working and adjustments are needed to draw participants. Planners want to amend the master plan to offer more incentives in the form of “density bonuses” to developers who take advantage of the program.

A density bonus allows developers to build more homes on lots than what is allowed under the master plan.

Critics have argued that even though land would be set aside for open space, density bonuses encourage more growth, which taxes water supplies and creates traffic congestion. They point to an annual 4.5 percent growth rate the county has experienced during the past decade and maintain the county should not encourage growth.

County officials say there are 1,900 undeveloped lots and cite a slowdown in the growth rate, which last year came in at less than 2 percent.

But the real catch-22, county officials say, is the fair market value for Carson Valley ranch land and what can be done to encourage ranchers not to sell their property outright to developers.

Ranchers can make tens of thousands more dollars if they sell to developers, County Manager Dan Holler said. Therefore the county master plan, which encourages open space in the Carson Valley, must rely on other means such as the TDR program to see that open space is not developed.

“The TDR program is just one tool in the tool box,” Holler said. Other so-called tools are conservation easements and public-private land swaps with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

While maintaining open space is a concern among county officials and conservationists, voters rejected a sales tax in November that would have raised money to open land.

Still, the issue of land use is a hot button because many fear growth and development will lead to urban sprawl, as development expands outward, which then increases the value of agricultural land.

To jump-start the TDR program, developers and ranchers must be able to see that they are getting a fair market value for the property in the exchange, said Holler.

“The real question is how much is an easement worth and what gives the TDR value,” Holler said. “Builders will tell you what they need to make a profit and ranch owners will tell you what they feel is the fair market value.”

The county, which is now updating its master plan, is looking at options such as concentrating growth in areas that are already developed, away from agricultural land.

North Douglas County is one area where the county wants to see a balance of residential, commercial and industrial development.