Guest Post by Mike Lawson
Last Tuesday’s Washoe County Planning Commission meeting provided a pleasant departure from the malfeasance we have witnessed at recent Reno city council and Washoe County commission meetings.As should be expected, the Washoe county planning commissioners did their due diligence in investigating applicant claims that their proposed project would benefit the existing neighborhood at Silver Knolls.
Despite the contention from Fire Chief Moore that fire protection should be the least of the County’s concerns, thoughtful citizens and planning commissioners recognized the truth of the existing response time (over 18 minutes) would not improve simply because new homes were proposed to be built. Chief Moore in later testimony claimed he had no special interest in the project (despite his earlier advocating for it) but offered conflicting testimony about when fire-fighting resources would be allocated to the north. In one breath he claimed he was not getting anything from the developer and in the next said the developer was willing to provide money for new infrastructure. The most puzzling part of chief Moore’s testimony was when he admitted response time would be reduced from 18 minutes to 2 minutes by moving an existing station, then saying he would do it when the demand was there. Seems to me and the residents of the north valleys that the demand is already there without the “new” homes, so what the hell is the delay?
Community advocate Russel Earl provided the most thoughtful testimony in public comment by providing an alternative traffic study commissioned and paid for by the community that rebutted the applicant traffic study. This is a prime example of not being able to trust engineering and other reports bought and paid for by applicants and it is an issue the county hopes will go away. As neighborhood activists we must continue to be diligent in questioning the veracity of these reports that serve the few at a cost to the many. Mr. Earl also mentioned the cost of development is not covered by the fees the developers pay despite continued assertions made by the applicant and offered a specific example about the Red Rock road expansion. Having served on the Regional Road Impact Fee technical advisory committee for RTC the past two years I can corroborate Mr. Earls contention in this regard. After they get credit for their “offsets costs” that go to building the local roads internal to the subdivisions they are profiting from, there is very little “money” that actually goes to regional road improvements. And, while developers really don’t even pay their fair share to the impact on regional roads, they pay NOTHING for impacts to the State Highway system (e.g, US 395 etc.), schools, police and fire staffing, etc. If we had responsible elected officials at the city and county level, they would require supporting documentation that a specific development pays for itself rather than continuing to support and parrot that unsubstantiated claim every time a new development comes before them for approval.
Beyond Mr. Earl’s testimony, there was considerable public input that was poignant and relevant but much too exhaustive to cover here. There were also a few public comments made in favor of the proposal mostly centered on jobs and value to people who do not LIVE here yet. It was not surprising the “public” support for the development came from those that either worked directly for the applicant or those that would financially profit from it.
Newly elected Chairman Larry Chesney made a succinct argument that he could NOT make ANY of the findings required for approval, that the application flew in the face of an area plan prepared by the EXISTING community, and that there was no way he could support it. The Planning commission voted unanimously to DENY the proposal and to DENY the zoning change.
I am encouraged by the critical thinking demonstrated by the Washoe County Planning commissioners and can only hope it is a sign that all future development will be more carefully scrutinized.