Critics say changes will bring sprawl | RecordCourier.com
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Critics say changes will bring sprawl

by Jeff Munson

Proposed changes to Douglas County’s master plan encourage development that could ultimately lead to a sprawling Carson Valley, critics say.

“What is being proposed opens up the Valley for development that once it starts, it won’t stop,” said Mary Bennington, president of the Carson Valley Trails Association.

Bennington and open space advocate Judy Sturgis believe if residents understand the implications of the proposed changes, there would be widespread concern. They say county planners are trying to push through changes without adequate public debate.

“The fact that this is coming to a forefront, and has never been discussed in five-year master plan meetings is strange,” Sturgis said. “In essence it is striking the guts out of the master plan without anyone knowing it.”

Master plan amendment hearings and proposed changes are considered twice a year.

The five-year update of the master plan, which is under way, lends itself to scrutiny and public debate, said County Planning Manager Mimi Moss.

“The idea is to have people come out and talk about these issues and to further educate themselves on the master plan,” Moss said.

At issue for critics are changes to the definition of what the county calls urban service areas, where residential and commercial building are encouraged.

Changes to the master plan propose that urban service area boundaries can be amended and expanded if developers can provide water and sewer services and paved roads.

Bennington and Sturgis say the language in the proposed change would allow land outside urban boundaries to be swallowed up, providing developers offer urban services.

“The county wants to make it easier for developers to expand outside the boundaries if they can upgrade services along the way,” Bennington said.

The county, however, maintains the language added is meant to require developers to add proper amenities if they build outside urban service areas.

To build outside the urban area zone, developers would still be required to get a master plan amendment, Moss said.

The proposed changes would make developers responsible for providing urban-type services, she said.

Also of concern to critics is a proposal that strikes current language regarding development within areas with limited groundwater resources.

The county proposes to strike language that says:

“All areas not urban are considered rural. Because there is adequate capacity within the defined urban service areas to accommodate almost all of the residential growth that can occur within the limit of the groundwater resources and capital improvement capabilities of the county, there is no need to identify additional ‘future’ urban service areas.”

Bennington and Sturgis believe striking the language would encourage growth outside urban service areas.

“It clearly states in the county’s growth element that growth must be compatible to resources,” Bennington said. “This change allows for growth potential, regardless of whether the resources are compatible.”

The change is meant to clarify the language between rural and urban settings when improvements are proposed, Moss said.

Also, new language regarding transfers of development rights reflects elements of growth that contradicts the master plan, Bennington and Sturgis say.

TDRs are a mechanism that allow for development in areas designated for growth while preserving other designated land as open space. The county wants to encourage developers to use TDRs by offering incentives to develop elsewhere. Critics are concerned the county is offering too much of an incentive.

Under the proposal, the county wants to offer a 50 percent bonus to developers that would allow half again the number of homes built on property in the exchange for dedicated open space.

Critics argue that whatever density the land is zoned for, would allow the developer to double the density, encouraging more development on smaller lots.

“The whole purpose of the TDR was to preserve open space,” Bennington said. “They are gutting this by making bonus density so high that they will effectively cut the amount of open space.”

The county maintains that changes are necessary to jump start the TDR program, which has yet to be used.

The idea is to offer developers an incentive to develop on property that is more conducive to development, while at the same time setting aside property that will be preserved as open space.

“We have to make it attractive to developers in order for this to work,” Moss said.

Critics are also concerned over a plan to strike out language regarding the transfer of development rights in receiving areas permitted within the Carson Valley watershed or the Topaz watershed,and not from one watershed to another.

Bennington said striking the language would allow for the potential of growth throughout the Carson Valley.

“What they want is to allow receiving areas wherever there are urban services identified up and down the Valley,” Bennington said. “All a developer has to do is provide services. This opens up the possibility for unlimited growth.”

Bkout

What: Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: March 1, 1 p.m.

Where: Courtroom of the Douglas County Administrative Building, 1616 Eighth Street, Minden