Susan Southwick resigns from planning board |

Susan Southwick resigns from planning board

by Sheila Gardner

Susan Southwick has resigned from the Planning Commission, citing compromise of the Douglas County master plan, specifically what she sees as the county’s acquiescence on controversial growth tools.

In a letter to County Commission Chair Jacques Etchegoyhen, Southwick said she had been a “steadfast supporter of giving the TDR/receiving area provisions of the master plan a chance to work.

“I didn’t like the ‘old way’ of giving out density on demand, and felt an alternative might work, if given time to prove itself,” Southwick wrote.

Southwick said the county commission’s reversal of the planning board’s denial of a zone change for Mack Land and Cattle Co. led to her decision.

“The recent vote of the board and the tacit concurrence of the Planning Commission … sort of pulled the rug out of my motivation to keep plugging for another six months. I considered it a watershed decision, but it is obvious that a majority doesn’t. I’m just not up to fighting an uphill battle to preserve a principle that seems to be increasingly, and prematurely, under fire,” Southwick wrote.

She submitted her resignation June 10, the day after the planning commission meeting.

“This was a particularly big issue for me,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “It showed how much support we are doing for the master plan. I didn’t want to play ball anymore.”

Southwick said the master plan is built around the concepts of transfer of development rights and receiving areas.

n Have faith. “If it’s going to work, people have to have enough faith in it,” she said. “If you abandon it two years after you decide that’s the way we’re going to go, it’s a basic undermining of the whole issue.”

When the 1996 master plan was developed, rancher Renee Mack’s property was identified as a receiving area suitable for urban development. Mack fought the designation, arguing that her family’s estate planning would be hampered because no monetary value had been established for transfer of development rights. Her request – that the land’s prior zoning of mostly one dwelling per acre be retained – was granted.

Earlier this spring, Mack asked county commissioners for a master plan amendment that would rezone her property for urban lots of 8,000 to 12,000 square feet, densities of about three to five homes per acre.

Commissioners forwarded the request to the planning commission which denied it on March 10. Two months later, Mack took the request back to the county commission which granted the change and did not require her to adhere to the master plan by transferring development rights from other properties.

The request came back to the planning commission which voted 5-2 to take no action, leaving the county commissioners’ decision unchallenged.

That meant Mack’s request was approved.

Southwick was appointed to the planning commission in 1995. Her term expires at the end of the year.

“Although I regret not finishing out my term, I set a frustration limit for myself some months ago, deciding if I reached a point where I was as effective off the commission as on it, I might as well quite and use my vacation time for vacations,” Southwick wrote in her resignation.

Etchegoyhen said Wednesday that Southwick’s departure is a loss for the board.

“It’s something we may disagree on fundamentally, but I believe the master plan is still soundly on the road to implementation,” he said.

He disagreed with Southwick’s appraisal of the Mack request.

“The Mack ranch was a little different situation. If you look at 1980, it was all zoned as Renee wanted it for 16 years. That was the master plan designation. It just went back to what she had in 1980 and had for 16 years.”

Etchegoyhen, who served on the planning board prior to his election to the county commission, said serving on the advisory board is taxing.

“It’s a very thankless job,” he said. “Susan was there for the whole thing. I think there is some frustration. Quite a number of planning commissioners have been through the gauntlet going through the master plan. I think they’re just tuckered out.”

Etchegoyhen said Southwick will be difficult to replace.

“Continuity is really important right now,” he said. “We’ve come so far, I hate to fall back, but I don’t think we will. We’re forging forward.”

n Maintain vision. Southwick said she would advise her replacement to “try to maintain the vision we started out with.”

“Look at every decision in the long term and its implications,” she said. “Try to rise above the personal issues that might be before you.”

Planning commission chairman Michael Hayes said he will miss Southwick’s contributions to the board.

“She is a fabulous person,” he said. She is intelligent, well informed, dedicated and of the highest integrity. She will be missed greatly. She was always very focused and very eloquent.”

Southwick served as a member of the original master plan steering committee in the early 1990s. She has lived in Douglas County for about 25 years and is the director of the state Law Library. Her husband Don has worked at Bently Nevada since 1972.

In her letter to Etchegoyhen, Southwick said she appreciated the opportunity to work with her colleagues on the planning commission, county staff and consultants in developing the master plan.

“It was the toughest job I ever had, and I can only hope that my fears for its long-term success prove groundless,” she wrote.

Applications for Southwick’s seat on the Planning Commission will be accepted until 4 p.m. Friday. For information, contact the County Manager’s office at the Minden Inn, Room 307, 1594 Esmeralda Ave., telephone, 782-9821.

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