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Three new planning commissioners talk about their philosphies on growth, related issues

by Sharon Carter

From a field of 11 applicants, the Douglas County Commissioners this month appointed Genoa Lakes general manager Jay Lather, Stateline attorney Rick Gardner and Minden land conservator Ame Hellman to serve on the county’s planning commission.

Gardner and Lather (who lives in the Johnson Lane area) both formerly served on the county’s Redevelopment Citizens Advisory Committee. Hellman, who lives in the Foothill area, has served on the planning commission since August, when she was appointed to replace North County resident Susan Southwick, who resigned.

n ‘I’ve found my place.’ Jay Lather, 48, was instrumental in building and runs the day-to-day operations at the Golf Club at Genoa Lakes. He and his wife, Ai Sook, have been married 23 years and have two sons. Jason, 20, is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, and Taylor, 15, attends Douglas High School.

Lather said Thursday his basic hope for the county’s future is to balance growth and maintain open space and green space.

“I’ll likely catch criticism as a (land) developer on the commission, but it’s much less than people realize – basically, our development here is done,” Lather said. “I fell in love with the Carson Valley when we first came out to open the golf course. It took a couple of years to make it happen, but now we live here. My feeling is: ‘I’ve found my place.'”

As one familiar with development, Lather said he brings a good balance to the commission.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a developer on the commission. Developers tend to be quite conservative, knowledgeable people – they want to make money and do good quality development,” he said.

Lather said he believes efforts to completely stop growth have no future.

“Like it or not, there’s got to be growth. The trick is to balance it and make it contribute.”

He cited Genoa Lakes as an example of development contributing to the county’s overall health.

“A county’s biggest expense is usually education, then comes crime suppression,” Lather said. “Residents here at Genoa Lakes are mostly retired people, they have no impact on area schools or crime. And on a daily basis, the golf course, itself, brings in people who play, spend money and leave.”

n ‘If we’re going to grow, we’ll grow smart.’ Kingsbury attorney Rick Gardner, 37, grew up in Douglas County. He left in 1979 to study at the University of Utah, where he earned a degree in finance. While at Utah, he met and married his wife, Kelly, who is also from Northern Nevada (Sparks), and was there working on her master’s degree in special education for deaf students.

After a two-year stint while Rick worked as a financial analyst for a hotel in New York City, the Gardners relocated to San Diego, where he earned his law degree at the Cal Western School of Law.

“New York City is fine when you’re young, but it’s not a great place to raise a family,” Gardner said Friday.

From the southwestern-most corner of the U.S., the Gardners moved to the Seattle area, where Gardner worked in land-use law for five years. They returned home to Nevada in 1993 and settled at Lake Tahoe.

Rick and Kelly Gardner (now a Douglas County Parks and Recreation commissioner) have four children. R.J., 10, and Becca, 8, are in 4th and 3rd grades, respectively, at Zephyr Cove Elementary School. Whitney, 4, and Michael Camille, 2, are still at home.

Gardner said his vision for Douglas County’s future includes controlled, managed growth.

“I’m not a developer, but I’ve represented developers in ‘large box’ negotiations,” Gardner said.

Since returning to Nevada, Gardner has specialized in entitlement issues of middle-sized and larger residential communities in Douglas and Washoe counties.

“My sense is, if we’re going to grow, we’ll grow smart,” Gardner said. “The planning commission will have a large role in that. We have to continue the good work of the (county) commissioners and assist in promoting sales tax dollars into the county.”

‘We can expect rapid growth over the next 10 years.’

With a State Ethics Commission advisory opinion stating that her position as the vice president of the American Land Conservancy and occupying of a seat on the planning commission do not inherently create conflicts of interest, attorney Amelia Hellman, 36, said her vision of Douglas County is in keeping with the 1996 master plan.

“I think we’re all issue-based,” Hellman said Friday. “I’m an advocate for smart growth – preserving and building on our natural assets in the Carson Valley. My goal is to implement the master plan and protect the agricultural character of the Valley.”

Hellman said compact, town-based development is the key to preserving the Valley’s open space.

“Sprawling development compromises the economic potential and vitality of agriculture and other natural systems,” she said. “If some of the growth issues are not addressed, they could compromise our future with respect to tourism, business productivity, private property values and other economic sustainability issues.”

Hellman said Douglas needs to preserve its historical downtown core areas and enhance their economic viability.

“This place sells itself. How many times have you heard people, who are now residents, say they were just driving through the county and fell in love with it?” she said. “We can expect rapid growth over the next 10 years, so we have to move now if we’re going to protect our natural assets.”

Originally from near Williamsburg, Va., Hellman attended law school in Colorado and practiced law in Denver before marrying Doug Hellman (who grew up in Zephyr Cove) and moving to Nevada.

The Hellmans have two daughters. Sarah, 13, attends Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, and Hannah, 7, goes to Minden Elementary School.

Hellman said progressive developers are good examples (of people) who embrace quality growth to protect future economic worth.

“It’s hard to take Nevada boys away from home,” she said. “And when I saw this place, I loved it, too. But, if we don’t protect it, I don’t think I could stay here.”

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