Douglas growth limits again before high court

The Nevada Supreme Court Wednesday again faced the question of whether Douglas County voters had the right to cap the number of new homes their county approves each year.

The initiative, approved by voters in 2002, limits construction in Douglas County to just 280 new homes a year. Supporters argued county officials had refused to include growth controls in the master plan so they had no choice but to take the issue to the voters.

Developers and county officials have fought the Sustainable Growth initiative every step of the way. They tried to keep it off the ballot, winning the support of Judge David Gamble. The Supreme Court overruled him and put it back on.

After 53 percent of voters backed the limit of just 280 new homes a year, county officials and developers won an order from District Judge Mike Gibbons blocking implementation of the law. He ruled the master plan provides an orderly process to handle development and it is up to the county, not the voters, to make that decision.

Again, slow-growth advocates took their case to the Supreme Court where, Wednesday, they argued setting a limit on growth is completely consistent with the county masterplan. Attorney Bill Shaw told the court county officials have done most of the things required in the masterplan except determine a rate of growth.

"It was the one thing Douglas County hadn't done and the voters did it," he said.

Michael Berger, arguing for the county and developers, said 280 permits a year is arbitrary and not supported by any evidence, studies or logic. Therefore, he said, it conflicts with and violates the master plan. He said it is also less than the growth range of 2 percent to 4 percent specified in the master plan.

He compared the situation to other cases where development on a piece of land had been restricted.

Shaw argued, however, this case is different because the restriction is a general policy for the whole county, not a restriction or downzoning on just one parcel or area.

Several members of the court including Chief Justice Nancy Becker and Justices Bob Rose and Michael Douglas asked how simply stating a growth rate conflicts with the master plan.

"Isn't that a decision we the people are allowed to make?" asked Rose.

And Senior Justice Miriam Shearing, sitting in for Justice Bill Maupin on the case, questioned why voters should be barred from implementing a general policy for planning.

"There needs to be hard evidence," said Berger. He described the initiative petition's limit on permits as "a meat ax approach" to growth control.

"What we have here is a number pulled from the air."

Becker and Douglas asked whether voters weren't just taking action on growth controls because county officials had refused to act.

Shaw emphasized that argument in his rebuttal saying voters have the right to set a growth limit.

"The people can do what they did," he said.

The court took the case under submission.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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