Neighbors sue county over easement
May 8, 2018
Three neighbors of a parcel under a conservation easement sued Douglas County commissioners on Friday for allowing a home on the property.
Residents Christopher McKean, Edward Young and Dan Wold filed the lawsuit to stop the new owner of a piece of property near Laura Springs Circle from building a home and bunkhouses.
McKean protested commissioners' April 5 decision to grant new owner Rock Morgan a home on the 141.56-acre parcel off Foothill Road.
"What is the point of conservation easements, if you allow them to change?" he asked.
The property was one of the first conservation easements approved by the county in 1991.
At the time, owners Dan and Laura Hickey said they would cluster an eight-home development at Laura Springs Circle and record an easement on the rest of the property.
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According to minutes of the July 18, 1991, meeting where the easement was approved, at one point county commissioner Dave Pumphrey said the motion wouldn't preclude future boards from amending the restriction. Pumphrey's motion died after Commissioner Mike Fischer withdrew his second.
However, the motion that was approved, according to the minutes added "that there be a deed restriction placed on the property; and the deed restriction cannot be removed without the common consent of the landowners and Douglas County."
The Hickeys sold the property to Morgan in 2016.
Morgan said in April that the conservation easement didn't prohibit a home.
"It does not say anywhere that I can't build a house," he said. "It will help keep the property clean and in production. Our intent is to be able to maintain it for our family."
He said that the Hickeys didn't address the issue of a home because they had one across Foothill.
"He never asked for a house because he never thought he would ever need one," Morgan said.
Commissioner Larry Walsh pointed out that if the Hickey's had sought to develop the property today, they would get quite a few more than eight homes, thanks to bonus densities built into the law.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who pointed out Pumphrey's statement in the minutes at the meeting, said there wasn't even a master plan in effect in 1991.
There also wasn't an ordinance dealing with conservation easements, which has since been implemented.
Community Development staff members said the original easement neither allows nor prohibits the home and employee housing on the property.
The structures would be built in a five-acre area that is already home to outbuildings and corrals. No structures would be allowed on the rest of the parcel.
Douglas County has approved several thousand acres of conservation easements, a portion of which were preserved by transferring development rights off of agricultural land.
The Carson City lawfirm of Allison MacKenzie is representing the plaintiffs.