Approval based on emotional appeal, not facts
At their February meeting in Minden, county commissioners approved various modifications and variances for The Ranch at Gardnerville planned development. The most controversial of these changes was a variance to allow driveway access onto Heybourne Road, a major collector. In doing so, the commissioners violated the master plan, the transportation plan, the development code and the design manual. They also ignored the recommendation of staff and the vote of the planning commission.
The issue is not only one of safety and efficiency, but also, more importantly, one of process. As staff indicated, if the applicant wanted to allow driveway access onto Heybourne, then they should submit a master plan amendment to the transportation plan. To allow such a variance, without the transportation analysis that would come with this process, circumvents the master plan. Yet this is exactly what the commissioners did. They changed policy on the fly, without benefit of a thorough investigation, and without regard to precedent or unintended consequences.
To approve such a variance mandates that it meet six required findings. Staff investigation indicated that the applicant’s request for this variance did not meet a single one of the required findings. Yet the commissioners approved it anyway, without any explanation as to their rejection of staff’s decisions. What gives?
Perhaps the answer lies in the seemingly endless stream of developers and builders who spoke in support of the requests from the Ranch at Gardnerville. They whined about the state of the market for developers, and the paucity of jobs in the construction sector. None of them, of course, addressed the master plan, the transportation plan, the design manual or the appropriate process for bringing about such changes. Their plea was just an emotional one, based solely on the economy. It seemed that they felt that every developer should get exactly what they ask for, regardless of right or wrong, regardless of our county’s adopted plans.
Commissioner Lynn (a developer) stated: “What we have to do to make this completely clean and neat, if we’re going to allow this, is we have to change the road classification and update the transportation plan. Very frankly, we’re not gonna to do that as part of this.” He knew the appropriate course of action, but chose to ignore it.
Commissioner McDermid talked about the “changing conditions in our economy,” as if that was an excuse for ignoring the failure of the variance to meet any of the required findings, or the appropriate process of first addressing the Master Plan, Transportation Plan and Design Manual.
The prize, however, went to Commissioner Olson, who said: “Dang right, I’m gonna be a cheerleader for opportunity.” He made the absurd suggestion that if the developer didn’t get every single modification requested, that he would walk away, and not fulfill any of his obligations. He also added: “I just believe that it’s real hard to look at some of my daughters’ friends’ parents, who aren’t working, and say: ‘You bet, man, I’m not doin’ anything for ya.'” Apparently the employment status of his “daughters’ friends’ parents” is more important than the Master Plan, the Transportation Plan and the Design Manual.
Perhaps this also has something to do with the fact that Commissioner Olson works for an insurance company with close ties to the development and construction industries, or the fact that so many of his campaign contributions have come from the same industries. This is a concern that needs to be addressed. He has a clear bias in favor of development.
Commissioner Johnson was the only one who got it right. He stated: “There’s a process to follow, and that process involves looking at the Master Plan … and the Transportation Plan … and taking the proper amount of time and meetings to figure out if we want to change that at this time; the same with the Design Manual.”
The other four commissioners seem to think that the solution to our economic situation is to revert to what made the recession worse here than in other areas. There’s a reason that Nevada has been harder hit by the recession than any other state, that Nevada has the highest unemployment rate, highest foreclosure rate, highest rate of underwater mortgages, and largest drop in home values: Excessive residential growth. This is the same reason why Douglas County (as well as Lyon and Clark) are among the worst in Nevada in the same unenviable statistics. Why would commissioners think that this is the solution to the problem? And what effect will more residential growth have on our struggling real estate market? With the current overhang of unsold homes, more supply is not the answer. A much better answer is to diversify our economy, not to continue to focus on residential growth.
Everyone hopes that the economy and the real estate market will start to recover soon. There are already some promising signs. But violating the letter and intent of the master plan, the transportation plan and the design manual is not the right approach, and not in the public interest. Commissioners should not be bailing out developers, picking winners and losers in today’s economy. They should be standing up for the master plan, for the appropriate process, and for the residents as a whole, not just for developers.
Jim Slade is a Gardnerville resident.