Survey respondents go for open space | RecordCourier.com
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Survey respondents go for open space

by Christy Chalmers

The sight of green, open space is a high priority for Carson Valley residents, but they’re less certain of how to preserve and pay for those views.

Results of more than 160 surveys taken during a series of workshops on preserving open space indicate that 74 percent of those polled are willing to contribute financially, with 43 percent supporting a sales tax.

The results were released Monday at the final workshop, which drew about 30 people.

The Douglas County Planning Commission co-hosted the meetings, which were intended to gauge residents’ opinions on the importance of preserving open space and their interest in paying for it.

Planning Commission Chairman Mike Hayes was enthused with the results and thinks the issue could be put to voters later in the year.

“I think it’s a better bet than the gas tax,” he said, referring to a nickel-per-gallon tax that won’t be going to voters due to a lack of interest.

A total of 167 questionnaires was returned during the workshops, and the visual and ground water recharging benefits of maintaining open lands were rated as “very” important by 89 percent of the respondents, with agriculture, habitat and flood plain protection following close behind.

Only 39 percent rated recreation as very important. Twenty percent ranked increased property value as important.

Respondents gave high rankings to preserving agriculture and open space. Asked if agriculture and open space need to be preserved, 94 percent said yes, and 93 percent responded that agriculture and rural character are essential parts of the community.

Respondents were less certain about the options available to preserve the open space, such as planning, limiting development and using conservation easements, in which land owners are paid to keep their property open.

But planners pointed out that the results indicate a willingness to pay to preserve open space. In addition to the 43 percent who thought a sales tax is feasible, 24 percent cited a real estate transfer tax and 13 percent a property tax. Several suggested a mixture.

Hayes noted the results are a switch from a survey taken during the county’s master plan process in the mid-1990s, when residents indicated they cared about open space but didn’t want to pay to preserve it.

“Now we seem to be in a trend where people are willing to pay,” he said. “The message seems to be that the people we spoke to in our workshops are willing to preserve open space.”

Audience reaction was mixed.

“I like open space, but I want to know how much it’s going to cost,” said Minden resident Norman Rossi. “Once they get their hands in your pocket, they never get them out.”

Bea Coffman cited California cities whose farms were paved into suburbs.

“Once you’ve built up, you cannot back up,” she said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Rancher Jerry Whitmire, who talked at several of the workshops, said local participation will be crucial to preserving open space.

“Without money and without a funding mechanism, drawing outside money and outside support is not an issue,” he said.

Survey results say that 72 percent of those who responded are Douglas County property owners, with 18 percent the owners of ranches covering more than 40 acres and 8 percent the owners of ranches less than 40 acres in size. Two percent lived outside of the county.

Hayes said the results will be presented to the Douglas County Commission, along with a request for further direction.