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.




6 thoughts on “Mortensen Ranch Development Denied

  1. Steve:

    For reference the 676 new homes with a $1,600 contribution per home to a construct a new fire station would yield only $1,081,000.

    The last new fire station constructed (TM#33 Foothill 2017) costs $5.4 million and the last new City fire station (RFD#12 Steamboat 2014) cost in excess of $5 million (both including the land cost).

    Even if this developer donated the 2 or so acres needed for a fire station, the $1,081,000 would fall woefully short of the funds needed for construction, much less furnishings, engines (which the City is short of) and staffing.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Be of Good Cheer | Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning

  3. Stan Lucas is also asking for exemption to standing rules about cutting into hills and ridges more than 20 feet, and filling valleys with more than 10 feet of material, ALL WITHOUT saying how deep they will cut or fill. This area is crossed by many known fault lines and we do get earthquakes in this area. The existing Verdi Elementary is TINY and already a traffic problem. A NEW Elementary school would be needed. The fire station in Sommerset is just a “medical first responder” only station staffed by 2 personnel at a time. There are no fire engines at the Summerset fire station. There are already water and sewer issues in Verdi that should be resolved first before any additional developments are approved. The development would want to use West Meadows as a Throughway and the roads were not designed or built to be as such. There are homes with driveways on those roads.


  4. Pingback: Mortensen Ranch Appeal Denied 1/22/20 | Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning

  5. Pingback: Mortensen Ranch Development Continued | Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning

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