Question No. 1 is coming: Are you ready? Many may try to frame the outcome from one extreme to another, so may I be the first to say, if ballot Question No. 1 passes, we will not grow like Las Vegas, and if it doesn’t pass, we will not turn into Radiator Springs prior to Lighting McQueen saving it.
When I first heard of Question No. 1, which basically gets rid of the 30-home per developer per year restriction while leaving in place the overall limit of 120 homes, I was very opposed to it. I have looked at our 120-home limit, not as a goal, but as a maximum that there is no need to regularly achieve. When I heard we had averaged 68 homes a year since the growth ordinance, I said, “Sounds perfect to me. Why change?”
As I studied the numbers, however, I realized I was wrong. We only averaged that number because, early on, there were land sales and plans in the works that preceded the growth ordinance and the limitation of the sale of land. In fact, according to the city building records that I reviewed, we averaged 106.4 homes per year from 1978-1987, 70.9 homes per year from 1988-1997, 36.5 from 1998-2007 and 11.4 from 2008-2015. (This excludes 2009, because I had no data from that year.)
Some may argue that these rates are merely market driven, but the numbers continued to drop from the early to mid-2000s, when the rest of Southern Nevada was going through the biggest housing boom of its history. At what point do we say we have gone from “controlled growth” to “no growth”? And what are the consequences? Perhaps our home values will rise, but will we inadvertently price out our own children from ever moving back here to raise their kids in the town we taught them to love (except perhaps in our basements).
What number is right for Boulder City, and how do we get there? If you feel the right number is more than 11.4, what is to be done? The way I see it, there are several levers we could pull to get out of our near-zero growth trend:
1. Amend the city charter that requires a vote to sell more than 1 acre of land.
2. Amend the city charter that requires the city to charge as much as the current appraised value for the land.
3. Adjust the 120-home limit.
4. Adjust the 30-per-developer limit
5. Lower zoning standards to allow for smaller lots, no sidewalks or smaller right of ways.
Lastly, we could do any combination of these five.
Which would you change?
For me, the two that I’m willing to alter are what we charge for land and the number of homes per developer. Wait a minute, you say, we don’t need to change anything. StoryBook Homes will buy land at our price and stay within our 30-home rule. The recent development with StoryBook is exactly the reason I am convinced we need a change. Are we really comfortable having only one bidder?
Especially when that bidder, from day one, is asking to limit sidewalks, narrow streets and alter lot widths? I am not slighting StoryBook. After all, I’m glad someone came to the table. But I care far more about the quality of development than exactly meeting a given appraised value or the exact number of homes the developer can build in a year.
Don’t misunderstand me. I do not love Question No. 1. I liked it much more as an advisory question, and I’d rather see the 30 homes per developer be adjusted to 50 or 60 instead of just being thrown out. But in the end, I think we do need minor adjustments to our ordinance, and I am willing to give Question No. 1 a chance.
No matter which side you fall on, I hope you will study the facts and realize the majority, both for and against this question, are fighting for same thing: the right amount of controlled growth. If we remember that, we will get there no matter which way the vote goes.
Nathaniel Kaey Gee resides in Boulder City with his wife and six kids. He is a civil engineer by day and enjoys writing any chance he gets. You can follow his work on his blog www.thegeebrothers.com.