Bewildered by approval of Park agreement | RecordCourier.com

Bewildered by approval of Park agreement

Terry Burnes

I imagine many Douglas County residents share my bewilderment at the county’s approval of a development agreement with the Parks that would allow 2,500 new homes here in exchange for little apparent public benefit.

Using rough standard planning formulas those 2,500 homes will add more than 6,000 residents and more than 20,000 vehicle trips per day here and place substantial new burdens on groundwater supplies, schools and public services such as police, fire and road maintenance. Residential development rarely pays its own way absent significant related growth in basic industry, which simply doesn’t happen in Douglas County. So it seems likely that this development will exacerbate Douglas County’s fiscal problems, not improve them.

The logic here, if there is any, seems to be that we’re transferring receiving area from Topaz to the heart of the Carson Valley. So it’s development already slated to occur. It will just be in a different location. But I think we all know that the likelihood of building 2,500 homes in Topaz was nil, but moving that development to the Carson Valley makes it much more feasible (and profitable). So who’s benefitting from that?

And receiving area is land less worthy of protection, to which development that would otherwise occur on lands we do wish to protect can be transferred. So land in Topaz that hasn’t been a priority for protection will now be protected and land in the Carson Valley that we do officially want to protect will now be intensively developed. The logic in that is hard to see.

The process here was also quite odd. Perhaps the largest change ever in land use here, with little meaningful analysis, virtually no involvement of our planning commission and not much by the public. Development agreements usually come at the end of a complex planning process that surfaces and analyzes all relevant issues, resulting in well-reasoned approvals that are then memorialized in a development agreement to provide certainty to all involved that the “deal” reached won’t change down the road.

But in the Park’s case that has been reversed. We’ve entered into an agreement about the end result of a planning process yet to come. The question is, why?

All I’ve heard is that we get some right of way needed to complete Muller Parkway. This of course costs the Parks nothing. It’s the county that is in fact on the hook to build the road in that right of way. Remember, this is a county that can’t afford to repair the roads it has. And while Muller Parkway is often described as a “bypass,” what it really does is serve the new development that is occurring and will occur along it.

Another possibility is that we get the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Parks because the county earlier denied another oddball scheme to develop some of their property. One thing I learned in my planning career is that if a local government doesn’t have the legal wherewithal to win those sorts of lawsuits it’s in big trouble. You can easily be pressured into “settlements” that are in the developer’s interest, not the local community’s.

I’d like to think that, despite all this, there is a clear justification for what our leaders just did, it simply hasn’t been communicated effectively. I think every official involved in this decision is probably on the record, either through campaign statements or job interviews, as advocating open and transparent government and a better future for residents of Douglas County.

So here is a suggestion: How about the new county manager and new director of community development, utilizing input from all involved, publish a column in The Record-Courier explaining this decision to the residents of Douglas County for whom they work. Tell us how this will result in a better future here, how the impacts on water, traffic and public services will be managed and paid for and how this project furthers the protection of lands here most worthy of that.

Or tell us how and why the county ended up with its back against the wall in its dealings with the Parks and how and why this is the best we can do in the circumstances. And how this still leaves the Parks as the good neighbors we’d like to think they are.

Confidence in Douglas County government is at a low ebb. Back room brawls. Elected officials walking out of meetings. Let’s not let this episode worsen that. Let’s use it to demonstrate that those in charge do, in fact, know what they are doing and are acting in the best interests of the community here, not simply the best interests of one family.

Terry Burnes is a Gardnerville resident and a former Bay Area planner.