The Ranch wins variance requests |

The Ranch wins variance requests

by Sheila Gardner

After hearing from more than a dozen builders, developers, Realtors and other representatives of the construction trade, Douglas County commissioners granted variances Thursday to The Ranch at Gardnerville, ending a debate whether driveways could open onto collector roads.

County staff had recommended denial of requests to remove alleys that served homes backing Heybourne Road and reduce the speed limit to 25 mph.

The issues had been debated and denied by the Douglas County Planning Commission on Jan. 10, and the developer appealed the decision to county commissioners on Thursday.

The issue sparked a lengthy discussion by commissioners regarding the county’s transportation plan, design manual and its role in bringing in jobs.

Staff expressed concern that granting the request would constitute policy change and lead to “unintended consequences.”

“It sure would be nice to have an involvement in our community,” said Commissioner Mike Olson, who favored the variances.

“This has probably been one of the most stressful items I’ve had to review. I’ve never seen ‘no’ as a motivator. I just believe it’s real hard to look at some of my daughters’ friends who aren’t working and say, ‘You’re a bad man. I’m not doing anything to help you,'” he said.

Originally named the Anker Park subdivision, the Ranch at Gardnerville planned development was approved in 2004. Plans were to build 633 dwelling units over 201 acres, including 603 single-family houses and 30 multifamily units.

Phase 1, which consists of 30 parcels on 87 acres, was recorded in 2007. Five building permits have since been pulled, and at least two houses are under construction.

Developers have obtained modifications to the planned community, including three changes to the development schedule. As it currently stands, the subdivision is in 11 phases, with the final phase to be recorded by the end of 2032.

The latest requests included the widening of public right-of-way, inversely narrowing setback requirements, the allowance of on-street parking along Heybourne Road, changes to home elevations as well as driveway dimensions, and corresponding changes to utility easements.

The most significant request was the removal of alleyways originally included in the subdivision map to provide back-loaded access to homes. County staff recommended approval of direct driveway access to local roads inside the subdivision, but argued that allowing direct access to Heybourne Road would change the nature of the major collector and require a master plan amendment.

Proponents of the request reminded commissioners Thursday the developer was willing to put in a $15 million roadway.

Developer Brad Spires urged the board to approve the requests. He talked about his involvement with the Minden Monte Vista project and the impact of the flagging Douglas County economy.

“I don’t have the money and the guts to start building at The Village (Monte Vista),” Spires said. “These guys (The Ranch) are ready to come forward to revitalize us. Those folks are willing to gamble on Douglas County to give us vitality we haven’t seen in four years.”

Real estate agent Stephen Orear talked about Douglas County’s high unemployment rate and working with families who had lost their homes.

“I experience heartbreak every day. Families don’t know where they’re going. Approval of this is not a solution, but it’s a component of the solution. I feel it would be unconscionable not to move ahead with this project,” Orear said.

Builder Mike Currie said he’d been hired for construction on the project.

“It’s hard to understand why 25 mph wouldn’t be approved. I can’t fathom losing my job over 5 mph,” he said.

Commissioner Doug Johnson said it was important to separate the emotion from the process.

“I understand all the passion, but that’s not what we’re looking at. If everybody in the room is right, there is a process to change the transportation plan and the design manual. I think there’s plenty of time to get the changes if that’s what the board wants to do,” Johnson said.

Engineer Rob Anderson, representing The Ranch, covered six findings in defense of the variance requests followed by the board’s approval.

Johnson voted against lowering the speed limit.

New collector roads are to function at 35 mph. The speed limit originally was reduced to 30 because on-street parking was approved to serve front-loaded homes.

“I think this variance allows us to approve request No. 1 and I’m hoping No. 5 will go forward,” said Commissioner Nancy McDermid. “At the same time, it doesn’t change policy and allows us to look at the transportation plan.”