Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bonanza Column 157 – The County is a Nuisance

Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town, but I've always believed that the closer government is to the people being governed, the more likely it is that the governing will be well done. I think this is doubly true when the relevant issues being considered by the governing body are essentially local in nature.

When the local nuisance task force began working some time ago, it was, as I understand it, under the premise that the County was committed to a nuisance ordinance that would have room in it for significant local determination. It seems obvious to me that Incline is very different from, say, Spanish Springs or Sun Valley, or other parts of the County. We are a mountain community with significantly higher property values and issues of scenery, tourism, recreation, etc. that are different from those faced by other communities. They are in the valley, more rural, with different scenic and land use standards. We're not better and they're not worse, just different, so the idea of leaving part of the County nuisance ordinance "blank" so that local communities could tailor it to their needs and preferences made sense, at least to me.

Then all of a sudden we heard that, somehow, vacation rentals were under consideration as a nuisance factor. Probably not a big issue in Sun Valley, but a major one here. We have a significant industry in vacation rentals – we have exactly one hotel and one motel here, and many property owners derive real income from renting their properties part of the time, whether because they are "snowbirds" (or sunbirds) or because their property in IV/CB is an investment property.

The Incline Village Board of Realtors took a strong position against this idea, as was their right and, one thinks, their responsibility to their members and clients, and the next thing we know, the County Board of Commissioners, including our own representative, not only eliminates the offensive position against rentals but also seems poised to throw out the whole idea of local "tailoring" of the nuisance ordinance.

The Vice-Chair of the Board said "I do not support Incline having their own design and their own modifiers. If it's fair for them it should be fair for every other community." Well, gee – wasn't that the whole idea – for any community that wanted to have their "own design and their own modifiers" to be able to do that, or am I missing something?

On the face of it this looks like good old-fashioned Incline-bashing by the Board, and I'm very disappointed that John Breternitz, our Commissioner, went along with it. Breternitz is quoted in this newspaper as saying that the year and a half of work that was done by our working group can be incorporated into land use rules or community plans if "the proponents of these custom provisions get broad public support." How broad? County-wide? What about TRPA, John? Don't we have enough government bodies to answer to?

If I were the cynical type, I'd say that the absurd rental provision was floated knowing that the realtors and others would rise up in protest, giving the Board an excuse to go back on the policy they announced almost two years ago and to trash eighteen months' work by a group of dedicated volunteers. Whether that's true or not, it seems clear once again that until we have local rule we are going to continue to be treated like stepchildren (and rich ones, at that) by the County and even by our own Commissioner. For shame.

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