Be of Good Cheer

Some weeks it seems like the developers always get their way with irresponsible plans that put residents’ safety at risk and undermine everyone’s quality of life.  But, the neighbors don’t always lose.  There are a couple of bright spots from the last few weeks.  They may indicate a trend.  (Verdi Area Development)

Lemmon Valley Suit Upheld

Reno lost to the neighbors in the class action suit seeking damages for flooding from Swan Lake.  Reno was found guilty of knowingly flooding the neighbors.  The city council voted to appeal the verdict to the Nevada Supreme Court.  The court denied the appeal on 12/12/19 so that the next phase of the trial can move forward.  There will be a second trial to determine what damages will be awarded to the plaintiffs.  The next time you speak during public comment before the city council, you could remind the council members that they are guilty of knowingly harming their constituents and that this was upheld on appeal.  You might also point out that the city is willing to shoulder the legal costs of fighting the voters, but not the developers (Daybreak).

Silver Hills Development Denied

The massive Silver Hills development was denied by the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Authority.  This plan was denied by the Washoe County Planning Commission, but the developer appealed and got a sympathetic hearing from the Board of County Commissioners.  They overturned the denial and approved the project.  It is a project “of regional significance”, so it requires the additional approval of the regional authority.   This may represent a new, rigorous approach by the authority reflecting a recent change of leadership.  We can hope so.

Mortensen Ranch Development Denied

The tentative map for this project was unanimously denied by the Reno Planning Commission on 12/181/9.  It was mostly on procedural grounds: the zoning should have been explicitly changed rather than done as part of the tentative-map process.  Never mind.  It’s quite possible that it would have been denied for other reasons if this procedure had not been controversial.  The chambers were packed with neighbors for 4 hours to share their views and to witness the vote.  This was surely a factor.  While the developer will likely appeal to the city council, the unanimous denial is significant.  Concerned residents should be ready to attend that meeting and spell out to the city council that approval would represent malfeasance.  The real estate market is “cooling”.  Development that is delayed now, may not be profitable until the next economic boom in a decade or so.  Such projects could join the extended list of zombie projects which are approved but not started due to market conditions.

In summary … we may be witnessing a sea change.

  • The planning commissioners (Reno and Washoe) are looking skeptically at the engineering reports ordered by the developers to justify their designs.  These engineering reports have been exposed as misleading and possibly fraudulent on several occasions.
  • Even the staff reports are now being questioned.  Planning Commissioner Johnson publicly disagreed with Planning Director Stockham, and went so far as to say that the Reno staff appeared to make a special effort to “cherry pick” regulations in order to favor the Mortensen Ranch development.
  • Neighbors are fighting back; in the meetings and in the courts.  Your participation makes a difference.  There is a beneficial effect, even when we lose.  The malfeasance of the council and commission are exposed with more attendees (witnesses) and the commensurate press coverage.  Please support the fight mounted by the other neighborhoods.  Their fight is your fight too.


Mortensen Ranch Development Denied

The Reno Planning Commission unanimously denied the tentative map and special use permit application for this development on 12/18/19.  The chambers had standing room only at the beginning (6:00 PM) and were still full at 10:35 PM when the vote was taken.  (Verdi Area Development)

The proposal was to build 676 homes on 955 acres on parcels adjoining Somersett to the west.  It would have only two entrances on the south side through the West Meadows development with an emergency exit through Somersett on the southeast corner.  (Verdi Area Development)

The developer gave a presentation (Developer_Presentation_121819) describing the project and promoting its features.

Angela Fuss (Reno Planning Manager) gave the planning staff presentation (Staff_Presentation_121819) and made the following points.

  • The development of this property is controlled by the Mortensen-Garson Overlay District (MGOD) which came out of a suit between Reno and Washoe County settled in 2001.
  • The developer will contribute $1600 per dwelling to the construction of a new fire station.
  • New schools will be built using WC-1 funds.
  • TMWA will provide water, but it will require building a lot of infrastructure.

Note: this is in Neoma Jardon’s ward (City Council) and also Paul Olivas’s ward (Planning Commission).

There were 19 neighbors who spoke in opposition.  The commission had received an additional 39 comments in opposition in writing.  No one spoke in favor of the project.  Neighbors made the following points.

  • The original plan was for 470 homes.  Increasing to 676 is too much.
  • Reno should be working on infill instead of sprawl per their own master plan.
  • Emergency evacuation in case of a wildfire is woefully inadequate.
  • The intensive grading (cuts and fills) will spoil the appearance and destabilize the soil.
  • Putting homes and a road on the ridge line will be a blight and hurt property values.  One neighbor had a drone video.  (It’s too big to be embedded.)
  • The developer has not made an effort to meet with neighbors despite his claims.
  • The closest fire station is not staffed with firefighters.  What good is another station?
  • There needs to be another road on the north side for safe evacuation.
  • The increased traffic will be a problem.  The developer’s traffic report is blatant B.S. (This is not surprising: Paul Solaegui writes reports that favor the developer).  The roundabout on Old Route 40 is already too small and presents a problem for traffic and a hazard to cyclists.
  • There are already sewer restriction problems in Sierra Canyon.
  • The schools are overcrowded and poorly organized.
  • This area is home to the Verdi mule deer herd recognized by the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).
  • The fact that a maximum of 676 homes would be allowed on this property per the court settlement, does not mean that the Planning Commission must to approve a tentative map with this many.
  • One speaker challenged Paul Olivas to fight for the neighbors for once.
  • One speaker observed that the Reno Planning Staff seem to act as promoters for the developers.

No speaker made the point that using WC-1 funding for new schools is to have taxpayers subsidize new development.

Commissioners asked questions of the developer, staff, and other principals.

Velto: “Why is the zoning not defined?  What can we do to reduce the ambiguity?”

Fuss: “Some of the MGOD handbook details were not incorporated into the overlay district which left areas for interpretation.  It incorporates ‘zoning bubbles’ that are not technically defined.  They would be defined at the time of the tentative map.”

Marshall made the point that this was a dangerous precedent to allow the zoning to be defined by the tentative map.  There should be no ambiguity.  There is no reason to refer back to the MGOD handbook which has expired.  Stockham (Reno Planning Director) disagrees.

Olivas asked how many of the planned homes are outside the original “zoning bubbles”.  He was told about 1/3 are outside.

Taylor, Gower, and Johnson all think the developer should apply for a zoning amendment in a transparent process rather than to change the zoning through the tentative map.  Stockham claimed that the MGOD documents were written during the downturn and staff cuts so that they were not clear or complete.

Hawkins asked how residents would evacuate if there were a wildfire at the center of the development.  Fire Chief Palmer discussed fire engines, but did not address the question.  Asked about the response time with the new station, the answer was over 6 minutes which does not meet the Reno goal.  The city will require sprinklers in the new homes.

The civil engineer for the developer admitted that 120 of the lots would be on a slope of 30% or more.  This is strongly discouraged in the master plan.

Johnson asked about the Truckee Meadows Water Authority plans to supply water to this development.  John Enloe (TMWA Director) replied that there would need to be substantial infrastructure built.  The existing water lines do not have the capacity for 3,000 more homes as allowed under the MGOD plan.

Johnson asked about the limitations of the existing roundabout.  A representative of the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) said that it was built to national standards. Johnson pointed out that it was built only to support the West Meadows development.  He was told that NDOT expected the developer to make improvements to it as needed.

There was some discussion of why the original plan included 470 homes rather than 676.  The developer claimed that they were not familiar with the lower number.  One commissioner found the reference in the formal agenda packet.  Velto said that the developer appeared dishonest by acting surprised.

Johnson said that the staff was taking the approach to allow the developer to build the maximum number of units by selectively picking from available documents.



Aside … It appears that there is limited demand for new homes in the Verdi area.

  • West Meadows has only sold 96 of the 335 homes built or under construction.
  • Meridian-120 has only sold 31 of 272 homes built or under construction.
  • These homes are priced at $550,000 or more.




Bella Vista Phase-II Amendment OK’d

The Bella Vista development is bounded on the North, East, and West by the Daybreak development.  It is bounded on the south side by South Meadows Parkway.  It is no surprise that the same hazards that dogged Daybreak also apply to this project.  An amendment proposed by the developer was approved by the Reno City Council on December 4, 2019.  The vote was 4-3 with Brekhus, Duerr, and Schieve voting “no”.

The developer was seeking an amendment to their Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposal previously approved.  It would incorporate the following changes:

  • Reduce the commercial area from 15 to 5 acres along South Meadows Parkway.
  • Add 37 homes to increase the total from 575.
  • Reduce the maximum housing density from 30 dwelling units/acre to 20 du/acre.
  • Add two water troughs for the wild horses since the horses will not be able to traverse the property to reach the wetlands.  It is not clear where the water or water rights will come from.  This would be a side-agreement with the city.

Arlo Stockham (Reno planner) says that his department supports these changes as being improvements to the project.  He sees the changes as relatively minor.

Tracy Wilson spoke during public comment about the needs of the wild horses in the Virginia Range.

  • There are about 375 horses in this area and this property is their last access to water.
  • The local wild-horse advocates concluded that a minimum of 3 troughs would be needed.
  • She has been willing to work with the developer on the horse issues, but Reno should have a policy regarding the horse requirements and development.
  • The wild horses represent an eco-tourism opportunity.

Kim Rhodemyre of the Upper Southeast Communities Coalition spoke during public comment about the public safety concerns regarding this development.

  • There should be an updated wetlands delineation map before this development proceeds.  This was requested by Council Member Duerr and has not been produced.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers permit has expired.  The work has not been done to meet the deadlines.
  • The testing for Mercury is laughably inadequate.  They took 20 samples from the surface and concluded that little Mercury was present.  Testing for Mercury in preparation for the Southeast Connector revealed Mercury present down to a depth of 5 feet.  Grading for construction will disturb Mercury below the surface and send it downstream to neighborhoods to the North.
  • Like Daybreak, this development is close to the flood plain and approval should be delayed until there is an updated FEMA flood map.

Stockham made a presentation (Planning-Staff_120419 ).  He asserted that his staff had no concern at all about the risk of Mercury exposure, the flood risk, and the Army Corps permit.

The developer made a presentation (Developer-Presentation_120419) intended to rebut Rhodemyre’s arguments point by point.

  • They claimed that the Army Corps. permit was valid.  But it is not clear that it was met in detail.
  • They claimed that there Mercury testing was adequate and did not address the question of disturbing the subsurface contaminants during construction.
  • They claimed that the development is at a higher elevation so that flooding would not be a concern, but they didn’t include elevations or historical data.

Viewing this as a layman, it did not look convincing.

Council members made the following points from the dais.


  • “Maybe Reno should have a policy on wildlife.”
  • “The Mercury testing sounds inadequate: there should be sub-surface sampling.”


  • The HOA may not be up to the task of maintaining the wetlands and the drainage features.  This responsibility should borne by a body with more resources.
  • She wants to see the updated flood map.


  • She is skeptical about the construction and maintenance of the flood-control structures.  She notes that only 40% of such features are in compliance in Lemmon Valley.
  • This development will contribute more flow to Steamboat Creek putting downstream residents at additional risk.  This is not addressed in the plan.
  • The distinction between “wild” and “ferral” horses is meaningless.  The original tame horses are long since dead.  The abandoned horses have long since interbred with the wild horses so that they are indistinguishable.
  • Two drinking troughs is not enough.  A fenced corridor to the wetlands would be the best solution to providing water for the horses.
  • The developer should post bonds to maintain the flood control features.  The HOA is not competent to handle these larger issues.

To the casual observer, it looks like Delgado is again putting the developer’s profits ahead of the safety of residents in his ward.


Stonegate Advances Despite Appeals

The Reno City Council denied two appeals to overturn the Reno Planning Commission decision to approve the first Stonegate tentative map (first phase).  Also, Reno approved an appeal by the developer to overturn the Planning Commission decision to deny a variance for the unusual landscape design requested at Stonegate.  This phase is for 671 homes; some on lots as small as 2400 sqft.  The meeting was sparsely attended.

Arlo Stockham, Reno planning manager, gave a presentation (Reno-Staff_Stonegate-Variance ) describing the special landscape design that was covered by the variance.  The principal change is to locate small basins between driveways to do some infiltration.  He reported that his department was very supportive of this change.  These basins are likely to be ineffective due to the high water table and the fact that the soil has been graded and compacted before construction.

The appeal brought by Council member Jenny Brekhus was heard first.  Since she was an appellant, she did not get to vote on the motions for any of these appeals.  She made the following points.

  • Reno’s services are shrinking at the same time that demands for services are increasing.  The police force has been reduced from 383 officers in 2010 to 327 today.  The fire department has been reduced from 345 fire fighters to 234 now.  There are now normally 3 police officers covering all of Reno north of I-80 and east of Virginia St. including Montello, North Virginia, Lemmon Valley, Golden Valley, and Stead.  The Reno budget includes no increase in staffing.
  • This type of urban sprawl at the ex-urban fringes is the least cost effective way for the city to grow.  This first phase of the development will result in a “colony” that is far from existing neighborhoods making it inefficient to serve.  If the city does not support the appeal, it will further dilute the marginal level of service provided to existing neighborhoods.
  • Neither the annexation nor the Planned Unit Development approval by the city obliges it to approve the tentative map.  Reno’s master plan states specifically that development will be “timed” so that growth can be supported.  It is too early to proceed with this development.

Michael DeMartini brought an appeal based on water availability and the problems related to the high water table in the Stonegate area.  He has a property in Cold Springs and water rights from White Lake.  He also represents the interests of another property owner adjacent to the Stonegate parcel.  DeMartini was advised by Jonathan Shipman (Reno legal counsel) to register himself as a lobbyist.  There was some question whether his interests constituted “standing” for his appeal.

  • The regional bodies have not studied the impact of importing 2,000 acre feet of water into this basin.   He specified the Northern Nevada Water Planning Commission and the Western Regional Water Commission.
  • There is no approval by the Nevada State Engineer that there is 1,000 acre feet of water available to support this development.  The availability of “wet water” should be confirmed at the time of tentative map approval.
  • The water table is too high to accept so much imported water.  One sample found the water table only 2′ below the surface.
  • DeMartini is willing to work with the developer to improve the Stonegate plan.

Michael Pagni, representing Stonegate, rebutted the appeal by Brekhus claiming that the Planning Commission had thoroughly considered the impact of the development on the emergency services before approving the tentative map.  There is no requirement per NRS that the services need to be available for tentative map approval.  Reno’s annexation of this property was approved 14 years ago, so now any development there is entitled to all the benefits of being in the city.  This could be rephrased “The developer is entitled to a profitable development at the expense of the taxpayers.”  Pagni went on to rebut DeMartini’s claims saying that reviews by regional bodies were complete before the Planning Commission approved the tentative map.  There was approval by the Western Regional Water Commission.

There were only three speakers during public comment.  Robert Lissner, Lifestyle Homes developer, praised the project and supports the variance for modified landscaping.  He owns a property adjacent to the Stonegate parcel.

Other concerns were expressed.

  • The regional plan shows that “fringe” development is over-represented in Reno.  This kind of sprawl is the most expensive development available to the city.
  • Wildlife along the eastern Sierras has plummeted.  There should be a delay for further consideration.
  • Michael Pagni is ethically compromised.  He is legal counsel for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, and the Western Regional Water Commission while representing Stonegate which will be a huge water consumer.  Pagni has made disparaging remarks about individuals opposing Stonegate and about the validity of existing water rights in his letters.

Council member Weber had to excuse herself which threatened the meeting having a quorum.  Council member Delgado was made available by phone.  He said he had been following the proceedings online.  Brekhus expressed concern that he might not be familiar with the issues if he hadn’t been following the meeting closely.  Weber returned shortly.

Brekhus spoke to rebut Pagni’s rebuttal.  The developer (Heinz Ranch) has requested that the State Engineer issue a moratorium on new development outside of Stonegate.  The State Engineer has done so.  The first phase will be completely isolated and very problematic and expensive to serve.  Reno should exercise its right under the master plan to condition approval of the tentative map to the availability of services.

Stacie Huggins, developer lobbyist, discussed the appeal of the Planning Commission decision on the variance.  She made the point that the 3-3 decision was partly swayed by the distaste for this change to be handled as a variance rather that revising the development handbook.

On the Brekhus appeal of the tentative map the vote was 5-1 opposed.  Brekhus could not vote.  Duerr was the only “no” vote.  On the Brekhus appeal of the special use permit the vote was 6-0 opposed.

On the appeal of the denial of the variance, the vote was unanimous in support of the developer.

The speculation is that the Truckee Meadows Fire Department will end up serving the Stonegate development since they have the closest station.  Under the automatic-aid agreement, there is no reimbursement to the TMFD.

The developer got everything he wanted this evening.


VIDEO          AGENDA          

Gateway Business Park Appeal Approved

The Reno City Council approved the appeal of the Reno Gateway Business Park tentative map that was approved by the Reno Planning Commission.  In a unanimous vote on 12/4, the city council overturned the Planning Commission approval.  This site is between the freeway and the railroad tracks in Mogul.  The plan originally envisioned a giant warehouse with a large number of truck bays for semi trucks (semi-tractor-trailers).  The developer changed the design completely so that it favored box trucks (used for local delivery) and passenger vehicles.  But there was no way to ban semi trucks since businesses don’t know how their deliveries will be made.  There is also concern that this area gets a lot of bicyclists and recreational visitors.

City Council discussion;

  • Fuss (planning manager) said the current plan would limit the percentage of traffic that would be semi trucks.
  • Schieve was not comfortable with the city or NDOT being responsible to monitor the traffic and keep statistics on the types of vehicles.  “There should be a better way to protect people who are there for recreation and also for maintaining the character of the area.”  She indicated that NDOT will look into the short west-bound merge lane which will be especially dangerous with increased semi truck traffic.
  • Reese “This site is wrong for this kind of development.”
  • Fuss “It could be more mini-storage or flexible workspace.  It might be an equipment storage yard.”
  • Brekhus “(Vehicle) trips are the issue.  The at-grade railroad crossing is very dangerous.”
  • Fuss “The property used for access to the Truckee River is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.  The developers would need to approve the area roads to Reno standards.
  • Jardon is opposed to developing in a way that brings in semi trucks.
  • Brekhus “The city does not want to be responsible to monitor the truck traffic to insure compliance.”
  • Duerr “Why don’t we consider re-zoning the parcel to bring in a plan that is more suitable.?
  • Reese “Could we make it a conservation easement?”
  • Jardon and Schieve expressed disappointment that there was no representative of NDOT present at the meeting since traffic is a central issue.

The applicant requested that the motion be tabled to give them time to work on something more suitable.  Brekhus suggested that the applicant could withdraw the plan and submit something new later.

The appellants (aka neighbors) make compelling arguments opposing the development plan.  The council chambers were packed at the start of the evening meeting that ran from 6:00 to 9:40 PM.

  • The traffic impacts are not mitigated as required by the planning-commission findings.  The traffic study ignored the I-80 interchange and ramps.  The dangerous west-bound ramp has not been improved and can’t be improved due to the nearby overpass.  Accidents on this ramp are more frequent than the NDOT report indicated.  A train can back up traffic from the intersection onto the freeway off-ramp.
  • There is nothing to gain with this development.  The city will likely never annex it and collect tax revenue.  The residents will suffer dangerous traffic.
  • The Special -Use Permit (SUP) findings were not met.  This development is not compatible with the area.  The map used for the tentative map was not accurate.  It shows Open Space in an area that includes residences.
  • This is an important location for outdoor access.  Many cyclists come through here or meet here to take the Tahoe-Pyramid Bike-way (aka “the Verdi ride”).  Families cross the railroad tracks to reach the river.  Taking a small bridge across the river provides access to the Toiyabe National Forest.  The area is also popular with fisherman.
  • The staff report indicates that emergency services will be improved in the area following annexation.  But, annexation is very unlikely revealing the staff assertion as false.
  • There is a strong sense of community in Mogul as evidenced by the attendance.  These residents are not represented since the Reno Planning Commission asserts authority here despite the fact that it is unincorporated.

Fuss reported other uses that would be allowed under the current zoning including a landscape nursery, a convenience store, a car wash, or a storage yard.  Alternately, the property could be re-zoned with an amendment to the Reno Master Plan.  This would take about 6 months.

The developer agreed to table the motion to continue to work on it.  The suggestion was made that the development consider businesses that would support recreation such as biking and fishing.  This would likely require re-zoning.

Attendees applauded at the conclusion of the meeting.  The city is defending outdoor access for recreation.

Meeting video

Reno Approves Meridian 120-N Extension

The developer did not met the deadline to submit their final map for phase-3 of the Meridian-120 North development.  For Reno there is a 4-year deadline from the time the tentative map is approved until the completed final map is submitted to the city.  The final map needs to show how the new development will meet all the conditions of acceptance at a detail level.  Neighbors appealed the Planning Commission decision to extend the deadline for the final map submission on Wednesday 12/4/2019.  (Verdi Area Development)

The appellants made the following points.

  • The developer misrepresented the project from the outset.
  • The original plan stipulated that the TMWA would annex the project and provide surface water for its needs.
  • The plans to provide surface water are not in place: TMWA plans to provide some ground water initially and transition later to the surface water.
  • This final map is late because it cannot meet the conditions for approval.

The applicant made a presentation to refute the points made by the appellants (neighbors).

  • The Meridian-120 North plan is not only compliant with the old master plan in effect when it was submitted but also with the newer Re-Imagine Reno plan.
  • The final maps for phases 1 and 2 were approved, so there is no reason to use a different standard for phase 3.
  • The precedent for development is that the infrastructure is not usually available at the very beginning of construction.

Discussion on the dais;

  • Brekhus asked why the developer needs this extension.  The answer was that the TMWA acquisition required changes to the project that caused delays.
  • Brekhus would like to see a joint Reno/Washoe plan for the area.  The piecemeal approval of one final map at a time is problematic.
  • Duerr asked what TMWA’s plan was to provide surface water.  Fuss (Reno) answered that the surface water would be phased in.  There will be an all-new water line that will provide partly surface water.  Duerling (developer) said that the project shouldn’t be interrupted with 73 homes built or under construction.
  • Schieve made the point that the residents are at a disadvantage since the city will make planning decisions while the residents live outside the city in the unincorporated county.  So, the residents are having decisions made by officials who do not represent them.
  • Duerr thinks that TMWA should be able to provide surface water for this development by now.  But, the only issue before the council is whether to grant this extension not a broader review of the project.

Public commenters made the following points.

  • Much has changed in this area since this project was approved in 2016.  Issues of police coverage, fire coverage, school capacity, traffic, and evacuation capacity have all changed for the worse in the mean time.
  • Ground water levels have dropped substantially affecting many homeowners depending on wells.
  • The special use permits for clustering and for large “cuts and fills” (grading) require regional approval.  Regional approval was never obtained.
  • Improving the inadequate Garson overpass depends on developer contributions.  These are woefully inadequate for this project.  The developer should pay impact fees for this improvement.
  • Surface streets should be improved to the standards specified in the Mortensen-Garson special district.

The council voted to approve the extension 6-1 with Brekhus as the sole “no” vote.