Change coming to Dayton Valley: Lyon ranchers watch development warily
After decades of herding livestock under Northern Nevada’s azure skies, change may be coming quickly for some ranchers in the Dayton corridor.
In today’s Business section, the Nevada Appeal takes a look at a few of the hard-working ranchers who are faced with tough choices as urban growth comes their way.
They say it’s difficult to watch as productive land turns into asphalt. But for some, ranching is not easy nor highly profitable.
Their children may have enjoyed ranch life, but they are grown and pursuing their own happiness.
As developers eye the burgeoning need for housing in the area, the wide-open spaces of ranch land look ripe for the 4,800 homes forecast for Lyon County in the coming years.
With the approaching development of single-family homes and cul de sacs, the bucolic setting of ranch life with its cows, barns and tractors, appears to be fading from view.
Some ranchers say they may try to hold on for a few more years, but even they admit it may be just a matter of time before they sell their land.
Ranches dwindle as development encroaches in Lyon County
by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer
Cottonwoods dot the pastures along the Carson River just west of Dayton, a bucolic scene belying the struggles ranchers in the valley face as development encroaches.
Doug Farris spent a lifetime on the Santa Maria Ranch, land just north of the Carson River owned by JohnD Winters and his wife, Kay. Farris has leased the land, now up for sale, from the Winterses for about six years
“This is going to put us out of business,” he said. “We don’t have any plans yet, but we’re trying to figure things out. This is a pretty confusing time for us.”
He still partners with his parents in the cattle business. Like other ranchers in and around Dayton Valley, he said the loss of this land for agriculture is sad but inevitable, considering the rate of growth in Lyon County.
“I hate to see them take a bunch of productive, beautiful ground and turn it into asphalt and homes. It’s pretty sad,” he said. “I’ve been a rancher all my life. I’ve taken a few town jobs, but I’ll miss the lifestyle.”
He said farming locally is neither easy nor highly profitable. Agricultural land is scarce and right now, there are more ranchers than arable property. Lyon County commissioners recently approved zoning changes that would allow one residence per acre on about 500 acres of the 950-acre Winters Ranch. The deal has not been completed, but North Tahoe Investment Group, headed by Gary Hill and Dale Denio, is expected to purchase the property.
A descendant of pioneer ranchers, John Winters uprooted his operation in Carson City about 50 years ago because of urban development. The couple purchased the Dayton property at that time and moved there in 1965. They have been retired for a number of years and have five grown children.
“We knew the growth was coming this direction and we purchased extra land for our children,” Kay Winters said. “We don’t like to see the development, but it’s inevitable. We’re going to keep the house and part of ranch, but it’s time to let go.”
Joe Ricci, a rancher just across the river to the south, isn’t letting go. He shares a 200-acre ranch with his wife, Suzanne, two children and his mother, Grace.
Joe Ricci Sr. developed the ranch at the turn of the century and the Riccis have no intentions of selling.
Grace Ricci said her number one concern is water. The ranch has deeded water rights, but considering the rate of development in Lyon County, she fears those rights could be in jeopardy.
“The government bought water rights to save the Stillwater marshes,” she said. “Now, those ranchers can’t irrigate. We hope they can’t touch our water rights here, but when they make up their mind it seems like they do what they want.”
“With development going the way it is now, I don’t know if the valley will have water,” Farris said. “Lyon County is interested in people and revenues. They aren’t worried about water.”
Joe Ricci said overhead for their operation has grown exponentially over the years. Three packing houses control the market, setting the price for cattle, while imported beef and lamb from Mexico, Canada and New Zealand undercut U.S. produced products.
“We’re staying, for now, but selling is something everyone has to think about,” Joe Ricci said. “We love the land.”
“You have to love the business,” Grace Ricci said. “You really have to love ranching.”
No easy solutions for development, but common sense a major factor
by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer
Good urban planning is complex, but the best approach includes a lot of common sense. Listening carefully to the people affected is another critical factor, according to Chris Exline, professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“When it comes to this topic, I don’t put a lot of stock in degrees. The best approach is to sit down with people and talk things over,” he said. “Good growth includes what is most appropriate for the community and their long-term goals.”
A member of the Sparks planning commission for eight years and founding member of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Commission, he has addressed the problems of growth and development from both the academic and public theaters.
He said overdevelopment can be as catastrophic as no growth, and striking a perfect balance is an art.
Developing agricultural land can increase the tax base, but careful planning is required concerning traffic patterns, sewer capacity and water production.
On the down side, once valuable and irreplaceable agricultural land is lost it is gone forever, together with the esthetics of open space.
“Families with young children require services, like schools. That needs to be figured in,” he said. “The aging may need special services too.
“There aren’t any studies that say growth pays for itself until we get into the multipliers, like commercial businesses that provide goods and services,” he said.
Exline said a good master plan is one of the critical tools, guarding against arbitrary decisions concerning development.
“There has to be room in a master plan for flexibility,” he said. “Demands for housing, for example, can change, but it’s not an overnight thing. Good planning entails looking for the balance between growth and open land preservation.”
He said the issues can be very complex and there are no easy solutions. One of the pitfalls he tries to avoid as a planner is the good guy versus bad guy debates.
“That’s when everyone digs in and no one talks,” he said. “I’m a huge believer in the common sense of the community. Planners need to assess where the people want to be, their vision.”
More than two years in the making, the West Central Lyon County Land Use Master Plan was approved Nov. 7 by county commissioners.
Planners have recommended 21 changes that could mean 4,800 new homes to meet the demands of an expected influx. County commissioners have not yet made a decision.
With neighboring counties, like Carson and Douglas, restricting their own growth, Lyon County planners figure it will only add to the already burgeoning home-building industry along the Highway 50 corridor.
The population of the Dayton area is expected to grow to12,665 by 2004. The most recent census puts that number at 5,907.