Michael W. Lawson Published 11:00 a.m. PT Oct. 23, 2018
Cows wander the Butler Ranch across the canal from the Heron’s Landing development on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006. Floodwaters from the New Year’s Eve flood from last year filled the area, leaving only the tops of the fence posts showing.(Photo: David B. Parker/RGJ File)
Dear Washoe County commissioners,
I understood that you appointed me to the Planning Commission based on my 40 years as a professional planner and my desire to serve our community. I told Commissioner Lucey that I was an advocate for thoughtful growth and that I had volunteered to serve because of the irresponsible growth I was witnessing in the region. He said he shared my views, but his recent votes to overturn several Planning Commission denials of irresponsible development belie that statement. You have voted to approve development regardless of flood risk, traffic congestion, degradation of existing neighborhoods, noncompliance with area plans and other legitimate concerns.
On July 24, you claimed that planning commissioners have individual agendas and are not qualified to rule on matters of growth. You contend that because you are elected, you have greater legitimacy in judging issues of development than the planning commissioners you have appointed. Your background is largely in real estate and hardly compares to the planning and development experience embodied by the Planning Commission. We have no agenda other than to serve the people we represent. We are not the recipients of campaign contributions from builders, developers and special interests. I have prepared and reviewed hundreds of engineering reports for both private and public entities. I am intimately familiar with how data can be represented to make a case to suit a client. My objectivity is not somehow diminished for being appointed.
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My colleagues on the commission are experienced, thoughtful and learned individuals invested in their duties to scrutinize all reports for validity and for compliance with area plans. You commissioners accept all applicant reports as legitimate, yet these are vetted by a staff that is directed to assist the developer in getting approval. Most egregiously, you contend area plans are irrelevant. While property owners have a legitimate right to develop their properties, they are properly required to conform to existing plans and codes. Homeowners have the ultimate “investment-backed expectation” that their property values and neighborhood character will be defended by the county.
You may claim that new development is needed to solve existing traffic, flooding and other problems, but have offered no fiscal analysis to support this. To the contrary, RTC has reported that developer fees only pay 25 percent of the cost that new developments impose on them. It appears that taxpayers are subsidizing the developments that are despoiling their neighborhoods.
This letter is to notify you that I will continue to work with our citizens, county staff and applicants to ensure they all understand that all applications must comply with area plans and existing zoning. As elected officials, you should be promoting the interests of your constituents. Impugning the character of those of us who truly serve our community on the Planning Commission will not go unanswered.
Michael W. Lawson is a Washoe County planning commissioner.