The Pahrump Regional Planning Commission Wednesday voted 5-2 to recommend to the county commission minimum five-acre parcel sizes in single-family residential zones and the donation of three acre-feet of water rights per parcel for property outside of a water service district, as a way to reduce the over-appropriation of water.
The text amendment also requires applications for parceling up lots zoned for single-family residential use outside of a utility company service area to be at least 10 acres.
RPC members Bill Dolan and Joe Goode Sr. voted against the item. Debra Strickland, co-owner of Strickland Construction who operates a well drilling business, also objected.
The suggestions were approved by the Nye County Water District Board on Oct. 28.
RPC member Bob King asked if the minimum parcel size would include condominiums. Nye County Principal Planner Steve Osborne said it would not, but that would be a multi-family residence, which would require a zone change. Osborne told him a property owner could create a smaller lot than five acres for a duplex, but it would also have to be rezoned if it was in a single-family residential zone.
“You have somebody who moved to the valley 15, 20 years ago, they bought a five-acre parcel, they’re an older couple, they’re getting up in the years and they decide they want to sell their property to a younger person coming to town. They want to put a single-family house on it and you’re telling them they can’t do it. I have a real problem with that,” Dolan said.
The revisions to Nye County Code don’t affect larger multi-family and common interest communities, but Dolan said the text amendment would hinder a tremendous number of owners of single-family residences with five-acre pieces of land in Pahrump Valley.
“It’s too limiting to these folks who possibly have relied on the use of this income, especially in our down-turned economy, when so many people have lost so much money in their 401k retirement and they want to sell off four acres of their five acres,” he said.
Dolan added he doesn’t have a problem with the increased donation of water rights.
“I just would like to ask the board to ask themselves, how this is actually serving us? I have no idea what the intent was here when it comes to the water board. Does this mean we’re going to stop parceling? Are we going to stop subdividing now? What are we doing with this? I don’t think the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission wants that to happen,” Strickland asked.
She said other parceling will happen, whether it’s subdivisions or other applications, the RPC shouldn’t pick on owners of five and 10-acre parcels.
“The regulations shouldn’t be targeted toward acres, you’re going to have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis and look at the best for the community,” Strickland said. “The intent is to get our over-allocated water down and this is not going to help that. This does not really make any sense.”
Resident Kenny Bent said he felt the five-acre minimum lot sizes went beyond the original intent of the Nye County water board. He felt two and a half-acre minimum lot sizes would be sufficient.
Nye County Water District General Manager Darrell Lacy said the recommendations, the result of several months of discussions by water board members, would address a loophole in the county code that allows people to subdivide five-acre parcels without providing water rights. He said it doesn’t mean there won’t be any lots smaller than five acres in the future, but would open up more discussions about water during the parceling process.
“There’s currently about 8,000 lots available in the valley of one acre or larger that are currently allowed to drill a domestic well,” Lacy said. “People can always come up with a new subdivision to produce one acre lots or other types of things. At that time, under the subdivision regs, it allows you to discuss water usage and how water is going to be supplied to the subdivision.”
“You can come in and have a discussion about what the water supply is going to be. With the parcel map, this automatically allows domestic wells to be drilled when you approve parcel maps. This was an intent to discourage lots of parcel maps in the valley. It was, I think, understood five-acre lots of larger domestic wells was the solution,” he said.
Nye County Commissioner Frank Carbone suggested the RPC could wait for the appointment of an advisory board, which will be appointed Tuesday, that will come up with a groundwater management plan for the Pahrump basin.
“When we start having our advisory board meetings, we’ll find out how many water rights are out there and in use. To me this is going to be an issue, 12,000 acre feet is what they say we get and if we have an over-allocation on paper of water rights we have to understand what that will do to us,” Carbone said.
The state engineer’s office uses a figure of 12,000 acre feet as the amount of water recharge into the Pahrump Valley. The Pahrump Valley has more than 62,000 acre feet of water rights approved on paper, not including 11,100 domestic wells.
Dolan said if someone wanted to buy four acres from someone on land zoned R-1 who owned five acres, they couldn’t put a house on it, even though it may be sitting in the middle of 30 other parcels with identical zoning.
“This needs some readdressing and after hearing public comment there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” he said.
RPC member Greg Hafen II objected to language used by RPC Chairman John Koenig asking the board to either send the recommended changes to the county commission “or throw our hands up and tell the state engineer we’re not going to do nothing.”
“I think that that is a horrible idea,” Hafen said. “I think we need to be acting in good faith and show the state engineer that we are working toward something.”
“That was the intent of this to show (state engineer) Mr. (Jason) King, the guy up there, that in fact Pahrump, Nye County is doing something, please leave us alone. Don’t make us do whatever you’re going to make us do,” Koenig said.
Under Assembly Bill 419, approved by the Nevada Legislature, the state engineer has a right to declare a groundwater basin with consistent over-appropriations of water for 10 years a critical management basin and regulate water rights by the date of priority. The drastic measure could be avoided by adoption of a water basin management plan.
Deputy District Attorney Timothy Sutton recommended the RPC send the recommendations to the county commission as a matter of procedure rather than to the new basin groundwater committee. RPC member Jennifer McCall, whose father is the chairman of the water board, made the recommendation to forward the text amendments to the county commission.