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.