Douglas County commissioners rejected a developer's offer to give the county more than 1,000 acres of open space in the Clear Creek area above Jacks Valley.
Commissioners instead asked county staff to hold future talks as to whether the county wants to be directly responsible for maintaining ownership of land intended for conservation and public access.
Thursday's 3-1 vote against the donation came after developer Jeff Dingman proposed giving Douglas County 1,064 acres adjacent to a planned golf course and housing development on what's known as the upper Schneider Ranch in northern Douglas County. The land is in a forest north of Jacks Valley.
Commissioners said they don't oppose acquiring open space, but need to determine if it's feasible.
"I cannot make the plunge today and yet I'm willing to look into the future," said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen.
The proposal included an environmentally sensitive meadow and forested areas linking the property to Forest Service land extending access to the Tahoe Basin.
Attorney Lew Feldman, speaking on Dingman's behalf, called the proposal "compelling" because the open space would be maintained through an assessment district comprised of local property owners.
"It's a donation ... without county liability and expense whatsoever," Feldman told commissioners.
Dingman wanted the transaction to clear the way for a master plan amendment allowing more homes than the one home per 19-acre parcel the county has zoned for the area.
Commissioner Don Miner, who voted for the donation, said it's in the county's interest to acquire it because the county has made a commitment to protect open space.
"Today, we are given the opportunity to acquire 1,000 acres of pristine land. I think we owe it to ourselves to flush out the details to see how this works," Miner said.
Miner also said Dingman and the "underlying owner of the the property" plan to build the golf course and homes.
Under the new proposal, Dingman would build more houses - one per 10 acres, but they would be clustered and cover less space.
Developers have stated they would build the 80 homes allowed under current zoning, one home for every 19 acres.
Miner said it would be more prudent to allow the master plan amendment, because more space would remain open.
"They will develop it as 20-acre parcels if the project does not go forward," Miner said. "What's going to happen is the alternative. We will be destroying what it is that everybody wants to preserve."
Plans to develop the Schneider Ranch property have been a source of contention among open space and property rights advocates. In March, Douglas County commissioners rejected Dingman's request for a master plan amendment which would have allowed 300 homes on the property.
A handful of northern Douglas residents spoke against the proposal.
Alpine View Estates resident Bob Allgeier, a former county commissioner, said the new proposal was made so Dingman can get the density he wants for his development.
"The offer of open space, a buzzword, certainly pushes one of our buttons. But we ask ourselves, at what price?" Allgeier said. "What is the urgency of requiring your decision today? The applicant clearly needs your approval to obtain a bonus density associated with his proposed project."
Former planning commissioner Susan Southwick told commissioners the proposal gives the appearance of a "run-around the process" and they would be unwise to approve it since the county has never been given open space to manage.
Commissioner Steve Weissinger added he fears setting a precedent of acquiring open space without the county having a specific policy.
"I don't want the county to be in the land and open space business," he said.