Prado Ranch denied by Reno

The Reno Planning Commission unanimously denied an application for a Master Plan Amendment and a Planned Unit Development to the Prado Ranch developer.  This is not to be confused with the Prado Ranch North development that was approved by Washoe County on an adjacent property.  This consideration had been “continued” from December 19 when the meeting was ended at 11:00 PM without deliberations and a vote.  The Planning Commission allowed for an update by planning staff and a statement by the developer and public comment despite the fact that this had been covered on December 19.  Little had changed.  The planner reported that they had done some additional review but that there was no change to their conclusion that this development was not compatible with the land use plan.  The developer claimed that they had addressed all the concerns that were raised, but there were no apparent design changes to their plan.  The public comments mostly echoed the points made exhaustively at the December meeting.

  • The development is designed to prevent flooding on the development.  It is not designed to protect existing residents from flooding.
  • The surface of Swan Lake has risen 3″ in only the last two days.  The coming storm is expected to raise it another 3-6″.
  • Semi trucks will be introduced with the industrial part of the new development.  There’s no regular semi traffic at this time.
  • The warehouses will be far from the freeway so that they must drive through neighborhoods and past a school to access the freeway.
  • Warehouse workers won’t be able to afford these new homes.  The industrial and residential mix does not constitute a live-work opportunity.
  • Traffic is reduced to speeds of 10 and 20 miles an hour as it is.  The Hesco flood barriers are disintegrating.
  • The traffic study was done on a school holiday when parts of Lemmon Drive were closed.  It could not be representative.
  • In some locations, the water table is only 32′ below the surface.  There is an increased risk of bacteria infiltrating neighborhood wells when there is less than 60′ of filtering depth.
  • Re-imagine Reno specifies that “non-structural” solutions to flooding are preferred over detention ponds.  The 100-year flood plain should be preserved.
  • The Prado Ranch plan will add 700 homes, but the waste water treatment plant only has enough capacity for 400 additional homes.
  • One resident was concerned that the wording in the development plan might allow for billboards or large electronic signage.

One resident, Tammy Holt-Still, had presented the planning commissioners with a presentation (prado ranch) of the required findings with an explanation of why the Prado Ranch plan did not meet the findings.

The land owner claimed that he had made every effort to notify the neighbors of the project and that he had made multiple attempts to meet with neighbors.  This was vehemently refuted by residents who were present.

Reno Planning Commissioners Weiske, Hawkins, Gower, Johnson, and Marshall all voted to deny the Master Plan Amendment and the Planned Unit Development application with no discussion.

S. Valleys Sewer Expansion

This is a guest post by Pamela Galloway in the form of a letter to John Slaughter (county manager) regarding the proposal for a new $50M bond to improve and expand sewer infrastructure in Pleasant Valley.  AGENDA (see item 13)  MAP

Request for far more high-quality information on agenda items (thank you)
Dear select commissioners and County Manager Slaughter:
When this item came up yesterday, several citizens testified they were concerned about this, about access to agenda information (staff report), and what it involves.  In response, they were told no one is being required to hook up to sewer, it has no impact on southern septic tank residents, it will be paid for 100% by new hookups, developers.
Commissioner Hartung emphasized the importance of bringing the southern sewer treatment plant up to grade A (or more) – the best possible. (Please tell me he doesn’t want us to drink it.  We had to drink geothermal water in the summertime for 10 years or more to accommodate new growth so I just want to make sure.) It was emphasized that this will come before the Board of County Commissioners a number of times.  A spokeswoman said in addition to improvements of existing facilities, another facility will be constructed by the old Brown School (NE corner of Geiger Grade at U.S. 395).  I write all this knowing you were present but for the benefit of citizens who were not.  Citizens who spoke during public comment included Bill Naylor of Washoe Valley and Ginger Pierce, representing Pleasant/Steamboat homeowners. Clearly important information is lacking about this, causing concern.
I always advocate for the most sunshine possible.  In that regard, and because $50 million is a tremendous amount of money, I suggest this:
The next time this is on the agenda, please provide a line item description of what the $50 million is for, in detail so we all understand these expenses.  Please provide information about who the developers are, associated with what developments, that would pay for this.  Also, please make sure that the staff reports are accessible with the links.  If not, I ask that you just include this in the agenda item. (Sometimes I click on the link and nothing happens.)  Who is paying how much, up front or when? In terms of relining the southern treatment plant reservoirs, I received an email from one community activist asking whether or not we just paid to have this done about 10 years ago.  So I ask that this question be answered, too, for her sake.
All governments need to aim for as much transparency and accountability as possible on agenda items.  (Ditto pay raises and other compensation.  This does not get discussed much during budgets every year.  When I was PIO of higher education I listed all the salaries, pay raises, listed every top official in the university system, including presidents and vice presidents, and outlined their perks such as cars, host accounts, etc.  Nothing was hidden or glossed over.)  I think we should list every union and what it is receiving, including any new benefits.
Thanks very much for your time and attention to this request.  Rural residents in the south sounded an alarm about this item several days ago (SaveRuralNevadaInfo) and clearly we all want to know what the future holds for us.  We are experiencing a way and quality of life vanish rapidly, and do not want to see any dense development enveloping the rural, pastoral valleys to the south of Geiger Grade and Mt. Rose Highway.  I’m sure you can understand that when we hear $50 million in bonds for sewer improvements/Pleasant Valley, alarm bells go off.  We often hear nothing about developments until they are far down the line and all the planners and commissioners know what is coming but the citizens are not informed in a timely manner.
It might have been more understandable to see Reno bonding for the North Valleys, but we of course might need to be educated about this.  It is better to err on the side of too much information than too little.
Thanks very much.  And thank you for your service benefitting the general public.  I know it can’t be easy and I do appreciate your efforts.
Sincerely,
Pamela E. Galloway Virginia Foothills
(Washoe County, NV)

Missing the off-ramp

The Reno City Council denied Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus’ appeal to the Stonegate development between Reno and Cold Springs.  This is a giant development (5,000 homes) with all the typical problems on a larger scale.  The issues of traffic, sewer capacity, flood mitigation, and emergency service coverage were not credibly addressed when the development was approved by the Reno Planning Commission.  This appeal offered the City Council an opportunity to stop or delay what will almost surely be a regional-scale debacle.  Mayor Schieve, Councilman Bobzien, Councilwomen Jardon, Duerr, and Weber all voted with the developer (Barnes) and against the appeal.  Councilman Delgato was absent, and Councilman Brekhus could not vote on her own appeal.

The appeal had two assertions.  First, the developer plans to use a “super pad” scheme that allows the developer to sell neighborhood-sized properties to builders in a single transaction.  Later, the “super pad” will be subdivided into individual home lots.  This is new and will set a problematic precedent which is neither compliant with the defined “subdivision process” nor the “parcel map process”.  The developer is not proposing tentative maps nor final maps for the “super pad” division.  Greg Salter (deputy city attorney) and Heather Manzo (city planner) claimed that this scheme was allowed, but both are invested in this decision.  Councilwoman Brekhus suggested that the Attorney General be asked to review the scheme.  Second, the developer plans to grade hundreds of acres at a time in anticipation of selling the “super pads” to builders.  This is risky since the property may remain denuded for an extended time producing dust, run-off, and erosion.  There is a bond for re-vegetation if the developer declares bankruptcy or abandons the project, but there is no time limit for development or re-vegetation if the developer is simply waiting for a good offer.

Public comment included the following concerns.

  • The development will contribute run-off and waste water to White Lake which is at historically high levels. At this time the lake shore is not far from the highway.
  • Currently Stead has only a single police officer. Reno cannot adequately support this development.
  • If the large-scale grading is permitted and the housing market suffers a downturn, we are stuck with a giant scar on the landscape for years or decades.
  • The hydrological characteristics of this area have not been adequately studied. Expert analysis shows that the planned mitigation is inadequate to protect White Lake from runoff.
  • Reno has adopted a measure that no development be allowed that has an impact to a closed basin. Stonegate will violate this tenet.

Too bad.  It looks like the City is barreling toward a record new debacle in the North Valleys.

High Standards (1/3/2019)

The Reno Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny a request for a plan amendment (Planned Unit Development amendment) for the Bella Vista Ranch Phase II development in the Damonte Ranch area.  It is at the eastern end of South Meadows Parkway.  This is a 77 acre site with maximum home density of 30 dwelling units per acre for a total of 575 dwelling units as defined by the PUD.  It presently includes 16 acres zoned commercial.  The developer requested an amendment to eliminate the commercial area and change it to residential adding 137 more dwelling units to make 712 dwelling units.  Commissioners expressed several concerns.  Losing the commercial element would reduce the “walkability” and “viability” of the neighborhood.  They also considered that preserving areas for commercial and industrial is a priority under the master plan.  There was also concern that this change would increase peak traffic since the commercial elements would not contribute much to commute traffic.  There was no detailed study to show the effects of the proposed amendment on traffic.  There was concern that wild horses would not be ensured access to water.   The commissioners could not “find” that the amendment would comply with various criteria that structure their decision making.  This went against the recommendation for approval by the Reno planning staff.

It was refreshing to see a reasoned discussion about what would be the best plan rather than a charged exchange about how to avoid a terrible plan.  It looked like the commissioners had the letter and spirit of the new Reno master plan in mind as they considered the change.  Decisions they make now will likely affect residents’ lives a century from now.  Now is the time to uphold high standards.

LINK: staff-report_bella-vista_amendment_010319

LINK: Meeting Video

Tremor at the Planning Commission

Last night’s Washoe County Planning Commission meeting had the agenda gutted when the principal topic, the giant Winnemucca Ranch development (aka Warm Springs), was dropped because the notification to the neighbors was given too late.  This looks like a problematic development, but it’s a topic for another day.  Other business seemed relatively minor with changes to wording in codes and some special exceptions for non-conforming lots.

Near the end of the meeting, there is an agenda section for requests for information from the county planning staff.  Planning Commissioner Lawson requested that the staff make a presentation detailing how they review developer-commissioned engineering reports.  Lawson has had informal discussions with the Planning Department principals and has not received satisfactory answers on the staff’s capability and process for reviewing these reports.  In his words “What is the process to insure the legitimacy of the applicant reports?”  He has been alarmed on several occasions by such reports that appear to be misleading in ways that favor the developer.  There are examples of traffic studies that are conducted when school is not in session or hydrology reports that do not consider flood hazard to existing residents.  These engineering reports are the foundation for planning decisions at the Citizens Advisory Board, the Planning Commission, and the County Commission.  Misleading reports enable development that profits the developer while burdening residents with excessive traffic, flooding, and other woes.  Even worse, there is no administrative process to challenge an erroneous report or to even challenge it in court.   This means that the foundation for evaluating a new development is suspect from the outset.

The Planning Commission exhibits a healthy skepticism of such reports.  This has resulted in their denial of several recent projects where the engineering reports were shown to be inadequate when scrutinized in detail.  The first step toward fixing the problem of bad decisions based on misleading reports is to understand the process.  If the process is flawed or inadequate, it needs to be exposed before it can be fixed.

  • Who (in staff) reviews these reports?  What are their qualifications?
  • How does the staff address questions to the developer or their engineer?
  • What does staff do if they lack specific expertise?
  • What are the steps for approval?  Who “signs off” on the reports?
  • What records are available of these reviews?

Lawson’s request represents an escalation.  He has been frustrated with the answers he could get informally, so now it needs to be done in public.  Planning Commissioner Lawson was promptly supported in his request by Planning Commissioners Horan and Chesney.