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Open space issue heads for ballot

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County voters will see a general election question about open space if one is asked.

The Douglas County Commission decided Thursday to plan for a November ballot issue on whether residents are willing to pay to preserve the county’s undeveloped land. A committee to write arguments for and against the question will probably be considered April 6.

The action followed almost two hours of debate that raised doubts about the community’s interest in preserving open space.

A semi-private coalition that has been drafting an open space management plan is paying for a telephone survey that will ask residents for their opinions on preserving open space. A series of workshops held by the planning commission indicated interest in preserving the land.

Ame Hellman, a member of the coalition and also head of the county planning commission, said the results of the telephone survey should be known in early April.

She and the coalition members also think they can complete the open space management plan and submit it for public review by mid-April.

“(The schedule) is going to be tight, but I think it’s feasible,” said Hellman.

The plan is to include details about the land that would be affected, the costs and preservation methods. Dave Bolick, executive director of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and leader of the coalition, said work is already under way and the plan will feature successful strategies from other areas, along with the information specific to Douglas County.

Though the commissioners affirmed the coalition’s work and indicated their support for a question, they expressed skepticism about whether it will materialize. They said the open space plan must provide detailed answers about open space preservation and impacts.

“It seems like we’re missing a lot of the ingredients for deliberation,” said Commissioner Don Miner. “We need to have definitive answers to the question, and then you take it to the public.”

“People aren’t going to vote (on) something if they have no idea what the end result is,” added Commissioner Bernie Curtis.

Curtis and Commissioner Steve Weissinger said they want to know the results of the telephone poll – positive or negative.

“If it was borderline, there’s some work to be done over the next two years,” said Weissinger.

“I think we’re all willing to put this on the ballot,” said Curtis. “I think the real poll or the real survey is going to come forward in November or whenever this appears on the ballot. The voters are going to tell us something.”

Commissioner Kelly Kite said he doesn’t think an April deadline for the open space plan is realistic.

“I can’t conceive of any way that you can get a comprehensive plan that this community will buy into in three weeks,” he said. “As far as the poll is concerned, there’s only one poll that I’m interested in and that happens in November.”

Hellman and other supporters of the question said they’re confident voters are interested.

“There’s a lot of enthusiastic people out there,” said Mike Hayes, a planning commissioner and coalition member.

James Settelmeyer, a Gardnerville rancher, said preserving open space is an investment people should be willing to consider.

“You can spend a little bit of money now to preserve agriculture, or you can spend a lot when houses are built,” he said. “Let’s try to do something, because in my opinion, something is better than nothing.”