Cold shot of reality
August 16, 2002
I attended the Douglas County Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 13 to voice my opposition to Master Plan Amendment DA 02-062, which is a zoning change from General Commercial (GC) to Multi-Family Housing (MFR) between Heritage Park and the slough by Chichester. At first, I was filled with pride so many people were participating in their local government at the grass-roots level. It was “standing-room only” in the hallway! I was confident that we would have a substantial voice before the commission because so many people had taken off work to be there. After all, how could our own local officials ignore a clear majority of local citizens who are directly affected by this vote?
Unfortunately, I got a cold splash of reality as the meeting unfolded. Many residents spoke, bringing up valid, logical and eloquent reasons against the zone change. Some were so good that impromptu applause broke out. Planning Commissioner Rick Gardner warned that clapping “created a hostile environment” and would inhibit “equal time for public comment by both sides.” My jaw dropped to the floor; I thought I had heard wrong. Clapping is hostile? There was no booing or yelling. Also, there was no other side to give “equal time” to … only the developer’s (Jumper’s LLC) representative, which is not part of the public’s comments. There was also a petition signed by 191 people against the amendment and a letter of opposition from the Town of Gardnerville (though they will hear the proposal again on Sept. 3).
After closing public comment, Rick Gardner had the doors closed and asked anyone who could not remain quiet to leave … Uh oh.
Planning commissioner Valida McMichael refused to accept the letter from the Town of Gardnerville because there was no reason for opposition given. Hmmm, I thought “no” meant “no.” That’s what I tell my children anyway.
Valida McMichael chastised and belittled the citizens with a long harangue about the importance of Multi-Family Housing. Hypocrisy! She and the rest of the Planning Commission had just voted for two zoning changes from Multi-Family Housing to Commercial earlier in the meeting! Their voting record supports rubber-stamping the developers’ petitions, nothing more. She explained why each person there did not have a valid argument; only hers and the developer’s (who has paid staff to research a presentation) were more than “conjecture.” This was so absurd it would have been hilarious, except that this was the Douglas County Planning Commission at work affecting hundreds of people’s lives!
Many people walked out in frustration, fulfilling Rick’s anticipation of trouble. Or is it just their routine to vote against the people of Douglas County? Planning Commissioners Kevin Lane and Carolyn Whitmire joined Valida in hyprocritically waving the MFR flag. Commissioners Mike Brown and Rick Gardner did not lecture (thank you), but voted for the amendment and recessed quickly to avoid the public outcry … no doubt joining the developer’s presentation team at the water cooler (no one else was in a friendly mood at this point).
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Valida said she “had heard all these arguments before, every time the commission tried to put MFRs into other neighborhoods in the county. Hello! See the trend of opinion from the voters here? It was pointed out that the Planning Commission is appointed … by whom? I would like to know. Well, on Sept. 5, the amendment will go before the County Board of Commissioners for final disposition … and they are elected. I will be there. I hope to see an army of voters there from Chichester and downtown Gardnerville, too.