Planners will tackle master plan changes |

Planners will tackle master plan changes

by Jeff Munson

Douglas County planning commissioners will review a master plan element that has yet to accomplish what officials, the agricultural community and open space advocates had envisioned.

The element, known as the transfer of development rights or TDRs, was adopted in 1996 to provide an incentive for property owners to transfer development rights off agricultural and range land, to lands designated as receiving areas for residential and commercial development.

The hope was that by doing so, property more conducive to retail and housing developments would be built on, while open space and agricultural land would be protected from development.

The concept was lauded by open space advocates and ranchers for not only its practicality, but as a bargaining chip with developers.

Developers, on the other hand, were against the policy from its inception, seeing it as another loophole to go through if they wanted to develop what they considered desirable property.

County officials had high hopes the plan would become a model for regions going through similar growing pains of growth and development in agricultural communities.

But since its adoption, there has yet to be any willing takers because there is enough zoned property in Douglas County already for developers to build on, said Mimi Moss, planning and economic developer for Douglas County.

“There just isn’t the demand right now,” said Moss, who will present a TDR overview and proposed changes to it at the Douglas County Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Douglas County Administration building in Minden.

The hope is that amending the current plan will give both developers and ranchers the needed incentives to get it off the ground, Moss said.

Currently, there is no economic incentive to encourage the sale of development rights or even for a single property owner to transfer development rights between parcels, Moss explained.

Because the value of land exceeds the value of development rights, the current plan makes it economically unsound to purchase and use the development rights for residential development, Moss said.

“In order to develop a receiving area, we need to identify what the value of the land is,” Moss said.

County planners are asking for amendments to the plan that they hope will jump start the program.

The first change is to provide density reasonable enough to provide incentive to both sides. The current density is one unit per 19-acre parcel, with a 50 percent bonus provided if the parcel is zoned for agriculture and an additional 50 percent bonus if water rights are restricted to the sending property. Planners recommend that the density structure be four units per 19-acre parcel.

The goal is to provide reasonable density for implementation of the program, Moss said.

Second, planners propose a bonus of three units per 19-acre parcel be granted if 50 percent or more of the parcel is located in designated flood zones. A bonus of three units per 19-acre parcel will also be granted if the water rights are restricted to the parcel and a bonus of one unit per 19 acres may be granted if trails or trail access are added to the parcel.

The goal is to place a higher value on agricultural lands than other lands, Moss said.

“The idea makes it economically feasible to the rancher in that the value of the development right should be raised on the purchaser’s end,” Moss said. “In other words, there is more of an incentive for the rancher to agree because their property value will increase.”

Third, planners propose to limit the number of available units to be transferred to any new area, thereby creating an incentive for developing existing areas.

On the table is a 50 percent limit. The remaining 50 percent of the TDRs could be retained by the property owners or transferred to existing receiving areas, thus creating a bank of TDR incentives.

Planners are also proposing that new commercial receiving areas must identify and restrict a sending area 10 acres to one acre of commercial development and that mixed commercial use should be five acres of sending area for one acre of mixed-use development.

The idea behind this is to encourage the development of existing receiving areas, with no additional restrictions placed on commercial development, Moss said.

Last, the current program doesn’t allow the transfer of TDRs from one basin to another. This limits any transfer of TDRs from the Walker River basin into the Carson River basin. Property owners have said this may be a limiting factor and should be changed. That’s why the county is proposing a 75 percent reduction in the amount of density bonus to create some incentive to leave the TDRs in the same basin.

While there have been discussions in the past of doing away with the TDR program, the Planning Commission and Douglas County commissioners want to see it through.

“The board and the commission feel strongly about preserving ag lands and they believe this is one tool to do it,” Moss said.