Douglas County wraps up workshops

With six workshops down and one to go, Douglas County Planning Commission chairman Mike Hayes has a suggestion for the next step in preserving open space.

"I will recommend that the board members put an initiative question out there for the voters to vote on open space and whether they would pay to preserve it," he says.

Hayes has helped conduct the forums that have been held throughout the county since December. The workshops were held to explain the dynamics of maintaining Douglas County's open spaces and agricultural operations and gauge public interest in preserving those lands, including whether residents would be willing to contribute financially.

Participants have been surveyed at each workshop, but Hayes declined to say what the results have been based on concerns about skewing the results of the final workshop, to be held Monday evening in Minden. He said the final results will probably be released at the planning commission's February meeting.

Hayes and Gardnerville rancher Jerry Whitmire, who has talked about the economic pressures agriculture faces at each forum, are pleased with the community's reaction.

"I think (the workshop attendance) is pretty representative. It's a pretty good cross-section of the community," said Whitmire. "I think most of the opinions that have been voiced have been extremely positive. It's been a good experience."

Hayes and Whitmire said many questions centered around a proposed conservation easement program, in which owners of undeveloped land would be compensated for keeping the land open.

One possible way to pay for the easements is to sell federal land and use the proceeds to pay the land owners. The federal government's involvement has piqued the interest of many workshop participants, Hayes said.

"People weren't really positive about having the federal government as a partner in the land ownership," he noted. "The Bureau of Land Management's representative explained that they really wouldn't own the land, that they would turn management of the conservation easement over to a local group, and people felt better knowing the locals would handle it."

Others debated the feasibility of a local tax to pay for easements or changing tax laws so that ranches and undeveloped lands could be passed between generations without excessive inheritance taxes.

Hayes said the current interest in open space complements the economic development that is occurring in the Indian Hills area, where Target and Home Depot are now located.

"This is the next logical step in the implementation of the master plan," he said. "We really hit a grand slam with the economic development and the businesses that are now locating in the north county. Now we need to take a step back and look at the conservation element."


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