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Master plan update generates debate

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

“The next step” in Douglas County’s master plan process doesn’t look like it will lead to a rubber stamp and a pat on the back.

Members of the county and planning commissions met Thursday night to discuss their expectations and some of the concerns they want addressed during a 5-year review for the master plan, which was adopted in 1996 and is intended to apply for 20 years.

Their remarks were varied and passionate.

County Commissioner Don Miner suggested doing away with incentives that let developers build more houses than would otherwise be allowed if they cluster the buildings instead of spreading them over the land.

The program was intended to give property owners an incentive to keep the land open using what are called “planned unit developments.”

“I see some of the planned unit developments we’ve done as disastrous,” said Miner.

Commissioner Bernie Curtis and planning commissioner Michael Hayes say they disagree.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Ame Hellman said she’s “appalled that Douglas County does not have a sophisticated, up-to-date conservation easement” program.

Conservation easements are intended to prevent development of sensitive land while compensating the owners. Essentially, the owner is paid not to build.

Hellman’s comments led into a long discussion about the implications of a failed quarter-cent sales tax hike proposal. The measure lost by a 44-56 margin in the general election.

Bureau of Land Management planner Mike McQueen said the loss is “a setback” because the BLM viewed the proposal as a key funding source. Had it been approved, an estimated $1.2 million would have been raised each year for buying conservation easements.

“I don’t think anyone was saying ‘no, we don’t want to do this,'” said Commissioner Kelly Kite. “It was ‘we don’t want to pay for it.'”

Others said they were encouraged that people cited the master plan as adequate for controlling growth, because it is intended as a blueprint for the county’s growth patterns.

The planned 5-year review could incorporate BLM plans for public land management. In addition, the Washoe Tribe will be invited to work with the county.

A tentative schedule for the review process calls for meetings in each of Douglas County’s neighborhoods, with final adoption in September 2001.