Supervisors table land decision |

Supervisors table land decision

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

Government officials and a local business owner will continue to talk about how to resolve a land dispute involving a former member of the Carson City Board of Supervisors, saying they would prefer to resolve the matter without taking it to court.

“In court you better be prepared to win, but you better be prepared to lose,” said Supervisor Richard Staub, who is also an attorney. And this type of case “smells of an adverse judgment.”

Bill Burnaugh, a former city supervisor, has used the land next to his business, Capitol City Loan on Highway 50 East, to sell cars and provide parking to employees and customers since the early 1990s. He’s been paying taxes on the land as if it were his property.

However, a section of the parcel is city land – sort of.

The District Attorney’s office asked supervisors whether the city should file a lawsuit against Burnaugh to enforce codes governing uses of public property.

Supervisors opted Thursday not to pursue legal action against Burnaugh and continue negotiating.

The city assessor’s map indicate it’s Burnaugh’s property. But the land is part of 60 acres that were set aside for the city’s use in a patent agreement with the Bureau of Land Management in 1973.

The land was marked for city “recreational and public purposes,” such as JohnD Winters Centennial Park and Eagle Valley Golf Course.

Meanwhile, the man who has been seeking action against the landowner for years might take the next step. Retired business owner Jerry Vaccaro said he plans to file a complaint about the inaction of the city and BLM with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the BLM’s parent agency.

“The city realizes they have a problem but it won’t do anything about it,” Vaccaro said.

And regarding the BLM, he asked, “What’s the purpose of issuing the patent if you’re not going to enforce it?”

Enforcing the patent could force the city into a fight over the land – all 60 acres of the land – with the BLM, which could take control of it away from the city.

While the federal government also plans to continue trying to reach some sort of an accord that would allow the city to eventually own the land, Charles Kihm, a BLM realty specialist, warned that a clause in the patent contract could be enacted if they rented the land or entered into any sort of use agreement with Burnaugh while the land is essentially still under the BLM’s care.

If Burnaugh lost access to the land in question, where vehicles are parked and put on display for sale, it would “put him out of business,” said Laura FitzSimmons, Burnaugh’s attorney. Vehicle sales comprise about one-third of Burnaugh’s profit, she said.

The city allowed Burnaugh to erect a sign and landscape the property – and took tax payments from him for years. Therefore, the city should not hinder his effort to eventually acquire the land, FitzSimmons said.

Burnaugh employs 12 people, has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and has donated money and property to various local charities, she said.

The city, however, would also like to own the land. The property is next to the future the Virginia & Truckee Railroad tourist route. Related attractions – such as a Chinese Workers Museum and a large commercial development – are also being planned nearby. The site could be used for access to the railroad or for parking, said City Manager Linda Ritter.

Ritter said the city might be able to obtain the land through federal legislation being put together by Sen. Harry Reid’s office if no resolution results from the ongoing talks.

In other business, supervisors approved:

• A Wastewater Management Plan that describes how to ease leakage from Brunswick Reservoir.

• A fees schedule for use of city grounds for commercial car shows: $1,000 for local businesses and $5,000 for out-of-towners.

• A land-purchase agreement for 25 acres for use by the airport authority to improve the facility.

• A contractor to build the Timberline and Combs Canyon Drainage project.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber or 882-2111, ext. 215.