Higher Density Zoning Proposal Denied

The Washoe County Planning Commission unanimously denied the proposal from the Washoe County Planning Department to include a new higher-density zoning category in the Washoe County Master Plan for the Southwest Area Plan (WMPA22-0004) on Tuesday, March 1. Given that the planning department operates under the supervision of the county commissioners, it is likely that the county commissioners favor this change.

There were 15 residents in attendance (or remote) who expressed the following concerns during public comment. In addition, there were 27 e-mails sent to the commissioners in opposition.

  • The proposal does not include a consideration of the impact of the zoning change on traffic, schools, public safety, and sewer services. It does not consider the impact on the character of the neighborhoods.
  • This proposed change is to favor a specific development project at the top of Zolezzi Rd on a property donated to the Reno Christian Fellowship (12.55 acres).
  • Homeowners intentionally bought homes in areas with low-density zoning. The county should not change the zoning requirements after the residents have invested there.
  • Concern that the area will run out of water with increased density.
  • Schools will not be able to handle higher population densities.
  • The Master Plan is a strategic document and should not be changed without compelling justification.
  • Allowing this change would set a precedent that such a change could be incorporated in other parts of the county.
  • The existing area plan indicates that the area is mature and largely developed. The emphasis should be on maintaining the existing communities rather than allowing additional growth.
  • No study has been done that indicates this zoning change is needed.
  • There are many undeveloped properties that allow for growth with no zoning change.
  • Any changes should be incorporated in the new “Envision Washoe 2040” master plan.

Julie Olander made a presentation from the staff describing the change.

Planning Commissioner questions and discussion

  • Patricia Phillips: “Is there some kind of emergency that makes this necessary?” Olander “This did come out of the discussion of the Christian Fellowship Property request. That is what is motivating this change at this time.” Trevor Lloyd (planner) “This is a correction to the area plan to include LDS-2 that was not available at the time the Southwest Area Plan was written, but would have been included if it had been available.” Phillips would like to know where the lots are located that would be affected by this zoning change. She is concerned that higher density zoning near the Reno boundary could encourage Reno to extend their sphere-of-influence or to consider annexation. Olander “This is not a blanket permission. Any property to be rezoned would come before the Planning Commission for approval.” Phillips “Changing the density changes the character of the area. It sets a precedent. It does not conform to the existing plan.” “I’ve been on CAB’s and the Planning Commission since 2006, and I’ve seen a growing mistrust on the part of the public about what is pushed down their throats.”
  • Kate Nelson expressed concern that with the policy change you can get one parcel at a time applying for a zoning change. Such changes would not require a study of the road and school impacts. Olander countered that any zoning change still requires review and approval and that the impacts would be considered even if the changes were piecemeal. Olander went on to say that Medium Density Suburban zoning (3 homes per acre) is already available in the area. Nelson said that the wildfire evacuation last year left all the major roads completely choked indicating that they were already inadequate with the existing zoning.
  • Michael Flick asked why the minimum lot size for LDS-2 is 17,500 sqft when a half an acre is over 21,000 sqft. Lloyd answered that the density and lot sizes are not quite the same thing. The minimum lot size allows for some variation in lot sizes where some lots in a development will be slightly over the nominal size and some will be slightly under. The density defines the average lot size for the development.
  • Sarah Chvilicek “The staff report indicates that this is an amendment. It is not just a policy change.” “The change would affect the character.” Lloyd responded that the area plans were never intended to become regulatory documents at a detail level. Chvilicek is concerned that such zoning changes erode public trust in the process.
  • Larry Chesney “Because we have an ongoing revision of the master plan, I see no urgency here to move on this tonight. I can’t support it at all. I can’t make four of the findings. Something just isn’t right with this in my mind.” “Contrary to Lloyd’s statement about the area plans being too regulatory, I find that if it wasn’t for the area plans, all hell would break loose in this county worse than it has already from the development standpoint.”
  • Francine Donshick “I have some uncomfortable feelings about this myself.”
  • Larry Peyton “I don’t see the point of this since a zoning change would require approval of the Planning Commission anyway. They could apply now for a Special Use Permit to achieve the same result.” Lloyd said this was incorrect: an applicant could only apply for LDS (1 per acre) or MDS (3 per acre).

Commissioner Chesney moved to deny the master plan amendment. The vote was unanimous.

The following commissioners couldn’t make the following findings.

  • Chesney; 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Nelson; 1, 3, 4, 5
  • Chvilicek; 1, 3, 4, 5
  • Donshick; 1, 3, 4, 5
  • Nelson; 1, 3, 4, 5
  • Peyton; 2, 4, 5
  • Phillips; 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Flick; 1, 2, 4

Washoe County Planning Commission Findings

  • #1 Consistency with the Master Plan
  • #2 Compatible land uses
  • #3 Response to changing conditions
  • #4 Availability of facilities
  • #5 Desired pattern of growth

The meeting highlighted an absence of trust. This was referenced repeatedly by the commissioners. The residents don’t trust the county process to protect the character of their neighborhoods and maintain their quality of life. It was evident from the meeting that there was also a lack of trust between the planning commissioners and the planning staff members.

This decision by the planning commission is subject to appeal. Given that no applicant (eg developer) requested this change, it is not clear who might appeal it. Can the planning department appeal a planning commission decision regarding a policy change?



Planning Commission Staff Report