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County not following rehearing rules

by Jim Slade

Douglas County has a great master plan and a fine county code, but both are only as good as the county commissioners’ willingness to abide by their letter and intent. Sadly this has not always been the case in the past, nor is it today.

In May the Board of County Commissioners heard an application from Five Creeks LLC for a zoning map amendment from public facilities to residential (SFR-1) on a one-acre parcel. The board denied the request because the ZMA did not meet the requirement that the change be compatible with the actual use of the adjacent properties (which is open space on three sides and State Highway 206 on the fourth side, with mostly public facility zoning directly across the street). So far, so good.

The applicant, however, was unhappy with the result, and took the unusual step of asking for a rehearing. County Code (20.24.070) is quite clear on the requirements for a rehearing. One of the requirements is that the applicant has new information to present, and that information “was not available or could not be presented due to circumstances beyond the applicant’s control at the original hearing.” Let’s see how the Commissioners addressed that requirement at their meeting on June 6 (in order).

Commissioner Bonner: “I’m trying to figure out what’s new that we didn’t talk about last time.”

Commissioner Johnson: “I don’t think it was anything new that we didn’t talk about.”

Commissioner Lynn: “It was a presentation issue.”

Commissioner McDermid: “I do think that all of the information that has been presented today asking for the rehearing was readily available. It is nothing new. Much of this is public record.”

Commissioner Lynn: “I think you expressed it a little better than I did, frankly.”

Commissioner McDermid: “We were not given the information which was clearly available.”

Commissioner Penzel: “I think I’m kind of echoing the statements already made.”

Sounds like a unanimous vote for denial of the request for a rehearing. All of the Commissioners agreed that there was no new information that could not have been presented at the original hearing. So what was the issue?

The reality is that the applicant’s representative (RO Anderson Engineering) was poorly prepared for the May meeting, and they wanted a do-over because the decision didn’t go their way. As Commissioner Penzel said: “It was a chaotic and difficult to understand presentation.” That, however, is not grounds for a rehearing.

So how did the vote go? 5-0 to approve a rehearing. What? The commissioners all agreed that it didn’t meet the required findings, yet somehow they all voted in favor of it. They clearly ignored both the letter and intent of the County Code.

The rehearing was held on July 1. No new information had been presented in June which wasn’t readily available in May. Nothing had changed. The zoning change was still not compatible with the actual use of the adjacent property, which was still open space on three sides. Yet the Board voted to approve the Zoning Map Amendment 4-1. Commissioners McDermid and Penzel changed their votes from May, without a viable explanation as to why. Four Commissioners again chose to ignore the letter and intent of the Master Plan.

This ZMA is not the most important issue to ever come before the Board. After all, we’re just talking about one acre and one house. But what is important, and is always important, is principle. The Board should always abide by the letter and intent of the Master Plan and the County Code. In this case they failed the residents of Douglas County once again.

Jim Slade is a Gardnerville resident.