Mortensen Ranch Appeal Denied 1/22/20

Before a packed audience, the Reno City Council denied the appeal by the Mortensen Ranch developers of the decision by the Reno Planning Commission to deny the project.  The developer first requested a continuance (postponement) of the consideration.  The council voted unanimously to deny a continuance.  This development abuts Somersett on the western boundary.  (Verdi Area Development)

Angela Fuss, Reno Planning Manager, gave the staff presentation regarding the project (Staff_Presentation_012220).  The Mortensen-Garson Overlay District was the product of a suit between Reno and Washoe County in 2002.  The resolution resulted in a development handbook that was set to expire in 10 years.  While the handbook expired, the overlay district is still in effect.  There are some ambiguities and the handbook and the overlay district definitions do not exactly match.

The developer had 10 minutes to present their request to overturn the Planning Commission decision (Developer_Presentation_012220).  His representative claimed that the proposal followed the overlay district plan.  He further claimed that the proposal followed the applicable code.  The proposal looks the same as the one presented to the Planning Commission.

The council members discussed the issues on the dais.

Council member Jardon said that the increase of homes from 470 to 676 has the appearance of a “bait and switch” tactic.  She had been in contact with the developer, but had not been told of the dramatic increase.  “This is the poster child for how not to do a project.”  The developer had threatened to sue the city if the project was not approved.  Jardon will not meet with the developer under these circumstances.  This process is not advanced in good faith.

Council member Brekhus is opposed to the process that the zoning would be worked out at the time of tentative map review.  The Planning Commission got it right with their consideration of the base zoning preceding the overlay zoning.

Council member Duerr requested Fuss to describe the logic behind the planning staff report.   Respecting the ridge lines is a seminal feel to the “look and feel” of Reno.  She is also concerned about the intensive grading included in this plan.

Mayor Schieve is concerned about fire and fire response time.  Fire Marshal Palmer said that the response time for the closest Reno station would be 9 minutes.  The goal for Reno is to have 6 minute response times or less.  There is a Truckee Meadows Fire Department station on Fourth Street that would have a 4-5 minute response time to the entrance of the proposed development.

The council voted unanimously to deny the appeal and uphold the decision by the Reno Planning Commission to deny the project.



Silver Hills & Daybreak before TMRPC

The appeal of the Silver Hills development was heard by the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Commission this evening.  The TMRPA had previously denied the project finding it non-conforming.  This commission represents the principal governmental bodies of the Truckee Meadows: Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County

  • Peter Gower, Mark Johnson, Kathleen Taylor (Reno)
  • David Blaco, Read, Dian Vanderwell (Sparks)
  • Jim Barnes ,Larry Chesney, Sarah Chvilicek, (Washoe County)

The project currently includes 1872 homes on 780 acres for an average density of 2.4 dwelling units per acre (du/acre).  The area is currently zoned 1 du/acre, so the developer is seeking a master plan amendment to allow higher density.  Separately, they want approval of the project as a Plan of Regional Significance (PRS).

The developer claimed that Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charlie Moore “signed off” on the plan.  Moore has been unwilling to challenge developers when their plans fail to provide adequate wildfire evacuation capacity.  The developer also displayed a letter from Brian Beffort representing the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club praising the project.  This resident is appalled.

Concerned residents made the following points during public comment.

  • The developer contributed roughly $12,000 to four of the county commissioners.  All four voted to approve.  Commissioner Herman funded her own campaign and voted to deny.
  • The developer has promised to build another fire station for Chief Moore’s organization.  This looks like a quid-pro-quo agreement.
  • The Washoe County Sheriff says he doesn’t have the deputies to protect this new development.
  • The traffic report is inaccurate.  The “service levels” would be “D & F”, not “C” as claimed by the developer.
  • The developer keeps changing the plan.  It is hard to assess the problems.
  • The existing plan allowing 1 du/acre presumes that homes would be on well and septic.  “Importing” water into the basin from TMWA will contribute to flooding in Swan Lake and Silver Lake.
  • What about the cumulative impacts on traffic from Stonegate, Evans Ranch, and other coming developments.
  • The engineering reports commissioned by the developers are consistently misleading or blatantly false so that they must be considered skeptically.

The developer said that it would take 2-3 years to build the first homes and 12-20 years to complete the project.

Chesney made the point that this project “Flies in the face of the North Valleys Plan”.

On the motion to overturn the TMRPA decision and to approve the zoning amendment, the vote went as follows.

For: Read, Vanderwell, Blaco, Johnson, Taylor

Against: Barnes, Chesney, Chvilicek, Gower

The motion failed since a 2/3 majority was required.

On the motion to approve the project as a project of regional significance, the votes were the same.  But, the outcome was different since only a simple majority is needed for this motion.  So, the project is approved, but it cannot move forward since the zoning has not been changed to accommodate it.  The developer plans to appeal to the Truckee Meadows Regional Governing Board to get the zoning amendment passed.


The massive Daybreak project was also reviewed at this meeting.  The purpose was to review the conformance with the regional master plan.  The TMRPA staff was concerned about the flood risk, but with no Hydrologist on staff or available, recommended approval of the project anyway.  Staff found it conforming otherwise.

Residents made the following points during public comment.

  • The wild horses of the Virginia Range will be excluded from their last access to water.
  • The developer has incorporated flood mitigation features into their plan, but historically 90% of such features have failed to mitigate flooding in the Truckee Meadows.
  • One resident pointed out a list of specific code violations.
  • The area has been identified as a “Critical Flood Storage Area.”  Development here is discouraged in the most emphatic terms.
  • Cumulative impacts from the massive development in the area will render the developer’s report meaningless.
  • The developer’s hydro-logical study does not include the impact of several tributaries to Steamboat Creek.
  • Daybreak could be the next Lemmon Valley as a poster child of irresponsible development.
  • Homeowner’s Associations will not be able to handle responsibility for the drainage features or for  the wetlands.
  • Neither Washoe County nor the TMRPA have current computer tools to model this flooding.

Smith and Gower bemoaned the fact that there is no hydro-logical model confirming that the flood hazard won’t be exacerbated.

Gower does not think such a suburban development should be considered “infill”.

Smith said that their role was only to determine whether the plan was in conformance with the regional plan.

The vote went as follows.

Taylor, Read, Blaco, Vanderwell, Johnson, and Gower voted to approve.

Barnes, Chesney, and Chvilicek voted to deny.

The project is approved.  Smith, Gower, and Johnson made the point that safety hazards will be addressed by other bodies (eg Army Corps of Engineers).  Based on the problems we’ve seen with past developments, their confidence may be misplaced.


Bella Vista-II Amendment Denied

This report comes from Kim Rhodemyre representing the Upper South East Communities Coalition.

Thank you to everyone who called and emailed the Council to voice your concerns about the Bella Vista Ranch Phase II zoning amendments! On December 4th the Council heard this item and Delgado, Reese, Weber and Jardon, voted in favor of the zoning amendments, while Schieve, Duerr and Brekhus supported south east Reno and voted no.

The 2nd reading was at City Council Wednesday (1/8/20) and it appears that Reese and Delgado had been getting a LOT of correspondence from the public and it seems to have made an impact.

There was a lot going on, but the issue of this being the last area where wild horses and other wildlife would have access to natural water had a big impact. There were also questions on the mercury testing that the developer had done and it appears that we might have finally got through to them that the testing was inadequate at best.

The final vote was Schieve, Duerr, Brekhus, Delgado, Reese and Jardon voting no to the zoning amendment and Weber was the lone yes vote.

What does that mean? The developer has a PUD Handbook for this project already. That means that they have approvals to build what they got approved back in 2013. The developer today was making a big stink that if they didn’t get their zoning amendments that they said would make a better project, then they would just build the project that they have approvals for. The amendments were to remove the small area of commercial in their project and replace that with more houses.

At the December 4th meeting, if you all recall from our previous update, the City Attorney told the Council that they could NOT condition the developer to provide access to water for the Virginia Range Horses. So after months of negotiating with the Wild Horse Connection (WHC), imagine the surprise (for different reasons) of both the developer and the Wild Horse Connection when they showed up at Council and they didn’t have to have the condition of providing water. The WHC was devastated because the City said that the developer had agreed to provide water troughs that they did not have to and in actuality they did not agree to any such thing. Over the last month, Council has been getting informed that there is no actual agreement from the developer when Council thought there was.

Additionally the mercury testing of the area was a joke. Their report that was given to Council said that the company doing the testing scraped some dirt off the surface and tested it and found levels of mercury so low that they did not have to report it. They did NO bore testing. They showed up today and said that they tested down to 1 foot and that they didn’t find enough mercury to report and then went on to try and explain that mercury is moved through water and sediment and that it layers. The top layer will have the most, then the deeper you go the less you will see. Well that is NOT what RTC found when they were testing for the Southeast Connector. In some areas they found almost no mercury at the surface but then found levels at the 2, 3, 4 and 5 foot levels that were devastatingly high. This was pointed out to Council and to the developers ‘expert’.

They also claimed that this area was not in the 100 year or even the 500 year flood zones so it does not flood. They were very adamant about that because it was brought to the attention of Council that the new FEMA remap of the Floodplain is going to be right next to the applicants property. They could end up in the flood zone. We don’t flood, they said. Well if that’s true, how did you get mercury on your property? we asked. No response.

Lots of other things happened but everyone must be prepared that they might retaliate and the developer might just fence the horses out of the property now that they have been denied. That is the fear of the advocates.

If they go ahead and move forward for development, they have to go back to Council for their tentative map. That might be the best opportunity to get the conditions on that project that are needed to make sure that 1) horses get water, 2) they do better mercury testing, and 3) that they have to wait for the FEMA remap.

Thank you again everyone. Your voices counted.