Housing debate slows master plan update
December 5, 2017
It was clear from the start that Douglas County commissioners weren't going to complete approval of the master plan update's first volume on Monday.
"It was a daunting task to get through this," Commission Chairman Barry Penzel said referring to the document. "This document will be going for 20 years. I think it deserves the time."
Commissioners agreed to treat the presentation on Monday, and any subsequent presentations, as a draft to be brought back at a later meeting for approval.
The question of what qualifies as affordable housing and what the county should do to encourage it dominated the first four hours of the meeting.
At issue is the lack of apartment rentals in Carson Valley.
Chamber of Commerce Director Bill Chernock pointed out there were essentially no apartment rentals available in the county.
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"We're in trouble in the rental market," he said. "We have a zero availability rate. We need to take the pressure off those people who are having to rent."
As part of the plan, commissioners approved multiple-family housing in two locations in Minden, including one near the intersection of highways 88 and 395 where a casino and shopping center had previously been proposed.
County Commissioner Dave Nelson summed up the quandary faced by county leaders.
"We want as a county to stay rural, and we want as much land preserved as possible, so the land that's left over becomes more and more valuable," he said. "What do you want? Do you want unlimited growth and build up the Valley, or conserve as much as possible, and have high-priced housing, because that's what's going to happen."
Community Development Director Mimi Moss said the county should encourage landowners to develop higher density projects in those places where urban services are available.
Minden Town Board Chairman William Souligny said the town was bypassed in the master plan discussion. Town Manager Jenifer Davidson said she and Gardnerville Manager Tom Dallaire were concerned that the towns would bear the brunt of all the county's high-density growth.
"Our primary concern is an overarching fear that we might be swinging the pendulum in the other direction," she said.
Resident David Maxwell said the high cost of housing was a reality of the market.
"Do what you can do, and not what you think you should do," he said.
North Valley resident Bob Ballou said a good location for multi-family housing is across from Carson Valley Plaza off Topsy Way in the far north county.
"That's an excellent location," he said. "It's in proximity to shopping and is the closest access to TRIC."
Foothill resident Virginia Starrett said she felt the master plan process has been handled backwards.
"Instead of deciding what was useful and proposing to eliminate the old plan, we've decided to take a plan that has broken down and is not working well, and revamping it so it works and refusing to remove those things that don't make sense."
North Valley resident Lynn Muzzy questioned why the county should facilitate affordable housing at all.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who was on the planning commission for the plan's 10-year-update, said the current plan has served the county's residents well.
"Before you throw something out and and start again, remember that over the last two decades have protected us in many ways based on our master plan."
Penzel said there was no appetite to start the planning process over again.
"I don't think it's a question of throwing the plan out, but making this plan the best we can," he said.
The town boards of Minden and Gardnerville are discussing updating their plans for prosperity this week, which they would like to have incorporated into the master plan, Souligny said.
Planning commissioners are due to discuss the second volume of the plan at their Dec. 12 meeting.
County commissioners plan to meet to discuss the rest of the plan in January.