Park proposal alters the master plan |

Park proposal alters the master plan

Terry Burnes

The Park master plan amendment is a bad deal for Douglas County. It’s a mystery why three commissioners, who campaigned on support for our plans, voted for it. But due to irregularities in noticing that prior action they have a chance to redeem themselves and put the community’s interests ahead of those of one family.

First, let’s be clear, Park does not follow our master plan, it changes it, in radical ways.

What does the community stand to gain? The main thing under discussion is about two miles of right of way for Muller Parkway. Plus some land for flood mitigation and the preservation of some Park ag lands.

That all costs the Parks nothing of course. They have land in abundance to trade for development. But it comes with an ill-conceived development agreement that obligates taxpayers to pay for the construction of a two-lane road in that Muller right of way.

The ostensible benefit of Muller Parkway is as a “bypass” of Highway 395. It will be no such thing. Trucks are prohibited on Muller, so it’s not a bypass for them, and it won’t do much about traffic headed to the most popular destinations in Douglas County, which are in the 395 corridor.

And of course Park comes with 2,500 new homes along Muller, which will generate upward of 20,000 new vehicle trips per day, most headed to the 395 corridor, not away from it. Though “sold” as a bypass Muller has always been about facilitating new development along it. Nothing has changed.

The county seems to think it can get grants to pay for Muller. But what if it can’t? Who will pay then? The federal government is reluctant to pay for roads that primarily serve new growth, which is what Muller does. The thinking is that those roads should be paid for by the development they benefit. There are lots of projects competing for road funds in Nevada. Why would highway officials pick Muller?

But if they would fund Muller, why wouldn’t they fund right of way acquisition too? That would take new development out of the equation, take Muller in the direction of true traffic mitigation, and we wouldn’t have any use for the Parks’ offer.

Let’s take a look at what the Parks and their partners stand to gain, though, if they can once again convince commissioners to sign off on their proposal.

In the end this is mostly about developing about 1,100 acres of Park holdings. Under current plans that land would be allowed about 65 houses depending on the design and how the rules are applied. That density would likely mean an “upscale” product, let’s say $800,000 per home, for a total value of $52 million. If they manage a 10% profit those involved walk away with $5.2 million. Not bad. But not enough I guess.

Hence what the Parks are seeking. The result of that plan? Well, 2,500 homes, but likely of mid-market type, so let’s say $400,000 per house. The total value? $1 billion. Yes, with a “b.” Manage the same 10% profit and those involved pocket $100 million, roughly a 20-fold increase. But they want taxpayers to build their road.

I’ve focused on traffic and roads, but could easily apply this sort of analysis to other topics. Water, for instance. Where’s the analysis of that? Using just 300 gallons per house per day, a low number in this arid place, this project would consume about 850 acre feet per year. Can we afford that much drawdown of our dry climate groundwater, given other approved development that hasn’t yet been built? I don’t think anyone knows.

Impact on sewage treatment, police and fire services, schools, parks, library, road maintenance? Same thing. There has been precious little analysis of what would likely be the biggest land use change here in decades.

Perhaps worst of all is the scheme that underlies this, moving receiving area from Topaz, where it would never be used, to the Carson Valley, where it will.

Here are some rough numbers. The 1,100 acres that would be developed would now be allowed about 65 homes as discussed above. It would instead get 2,500 homes, a net increase of over 2,400 homes in the Carson Valley.

My past analysis shows that we must approve about 27 houses in the receiving area to prevent one house from being built in our agricultural “sending” areas, which are zoned for 19-acre parcels. So to get their 2,500 homes the Parks will need to relinquish the rights to build about 92 homes (2,500/27) on about 1,750 acres elsewhere (92×19). We lose 1,100 acres of agricultural land to development while protecting 1,750 acres elsewhere, a net protection of 650 acres.

So the effect of this project is more than 2,400 more homes to protect a net 650 acres of land. That’s about four new homes and their impacts per acre of protected land. You decide if that is a good deal for Douglas County.

This questionable project has followed a questionable process too. Park was initially treated, disingenuously I think, as a minor part of the master plan update, just a few map changes, instead of as the huge development project it is. Yet now that it is in jeopardy it’s been pushed ahead of the update, the tail sort of wagging the dog. Why all the machinations?

The Parks have several perfectly good options under the existing master plan. They should use one of those instead.

They could ranch what they purchased as ranch land. They could sell their development rights to others developing in a manner consistent with our plans. They could develop their own lands at the master plan density of one unit per 19 acres. They could cluster that development to earn bonuses, leaving much of their land intact for continued ranching.

In the end this project is about amending our plans for private gain, not public benefit. It should be rejected.

Terry Burnes is a retired planner and a Gardnerville Ranchos resident.