Neighbors win lawsuit against county
October 13, 2018
A judge ruled the county erred when it permitted a home on one of the first conservation easements in Carson Valley.
District Judge Tod Young said he ruled against the county on Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by neighbors to stop the new owner of the property near Laura Springs Circle from building a home on the property.
Residents Christopher McKean, Edward Young and Dan Wold filed the lawsuit in protest of commissioners' April 5 decision to grant 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?" McKean asked commissioners at the meeting.
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.
Representatives of the county argued that in the Reno v. Citizens for Cold Springs ruling, the Supreme Court said all that was required was that commissioners heard substantial evidence in making their findings.
However attorneys for the neighbors said commissioners were arbitrary and capricious in allowing the home on the parcel.
"Not only does the conservation easement state on its face that it cannot be amended, but the parties clearly intended that the easement be unmodifiable."
The order is being prepared by the plaintiff's attorneys, the Carson City lawfirm of Allison MacKenzie.
Douglas County has approved several thousand acres of conservation easements, a portion of which were preserved by transferring development rights off of agricultural land.