A request by Ascente developers to extend their final-map deadline and a request by Silver Hills to approve their tentative map both came before the Washoe Board of County Commissioners 8/24/21.
Lucey abstained due to his relationship with the developer and left the room.
Trevor Lloyd made a presentation.
Hartung made the point that the developer had 4 years to complete the final map. Only 1-1/2 was during the pandemic. He asked the rhetorical question “Why do we even have timelines? I’m vexed. It makes no sense to me why we’re granting an extension when they’ve had 4 years to do this.”
Michael Barnes (developer) claimed that there were many disruptive factors that delayed their plans including the denial of “jumbo loans”, he wanted to use the “save the map with 5 units” process. Key employees have left (hydrologist, landscaping) and they struggled to find engineers to put together the design of the 5 lots. “Our intention is to develop the property out in conjunction with Toll Brothers. Toll Brothers has informed the commissioners by e-mail (below) that they intend to be the partners and build the project out. They fully intend to come forward with final maps for all of the development. Our goal is to come through with Toll Brothers and put together a community. Even county staff has had trouble making time to meet with us due to COVID.”
Hartung “Is this the first extension for this project or was there an earlier administrative extension?” Lloyd “This is the only extension at this time.”
Hartung “Mr. Barnes, this is not an entry level project that fills a need for affordable housing.” Barnes “That is correct. Toll Brothers is America’s #1 luxury home builder. We’re proud of that. These homes will range from $700k to above $1M.”
Hartung “Why isn’t Tolles Brothers here today giving us their word that this project is moving forward?” Barnes “I apologize that they couldn’t attend, but they did send an e-mail outlining their support for the project.”
Alexis Hill eagerly moved to grant the extension. The proposed agreement will get a second reading on September 28, 2021. There was no vote. [She had received $35,900 in campaign contributions from development interest for the 2020 election; 24% of all contributions.]
There was one e-mail in opposition. No one spoke in opposition.
Lucey returned to the dais.
The issue is the appeal by the developer of the Washoe Planning Commission decision to deny the tentative map for the Silver Hills development.
Garrett Gordon (Lewis and Roca) presented the Lifestyle Homes appeal.
- The tentative map is for 358 single family homes (Village #1) of the 1,872 homes that are included in the zoning amendment. It is 66 acres. This tentative map includes homes on 5,000 sqft lots.
- The tentative map includes the “backbone trail map” as required in their zoning amendment.
- This tentative map includes higher density development that is balanced by open space so as not to exceed an average of 3 units per acre.
- Gordon claimed that the tentative map complied with the area plan (this has no basis in fact).
- Gordon offered a couple of concessions. The houses would be wired “solar ready, electric car ready, and ready for battery hookup”. Further they are offering undefined “innovative amenities” for the common space.
The viewer can’t help but be struck by the very high density of this tentative map. It looks urban in a area zoned for Suburban Rural; 1 home per acre. The effect of their zoning amendment is dramatic.
Roger Pelham from the county planning staff made a presentation.
- The tentative map is consistent with the area plan (not credible).
- The designs are supposed to incorporate passive solar design. This requirement has not been met.
- Staff concluded that the developer met all the findings for approval.
- This is only a small fraction of the greater plan and does not show how the broader conditions will be met.
Public Comment consisted of one speaker who made the following points.
- There are only two routes into and out of the neighborhood. A recent evacuation of the area was problematic without these new homes.
- This project will completely destroy the rural nature of the North Valleys. It is not compatible with the rural nature of the North Valleys.
- Red Rock Road will need to be widened to 4 lanes.
- “The Lissner family, Lifestyle homes under different iterations, Robert Lissner, Elaine Lissner, Peter, Cassadee, have collectively bestowed a couple of hundred thousand dollars in buying the influence of the Washoe County Commission and the city councils.”
Commissioner Jeanne Herman referred to a recent case where a developer sued a private person for speaking against their development causing a lot of grief for that person. She has had a number of her constituents contact her that want to speak in opposition to this project, but they are afraid that they may be sued as well. “You’re not getting the fairest meeting here. One public comment is not representative.” She also expressed concern for the lack of improvement at the Reno-Stead Wastewater Reclamation Facility limiting its ability to handle increased wastewater.
Commissioner Vaughan Hartung claimed that this was an approved use of this property. He addressed the two findings that the Planning Commission decided were not met. One was “plan consistency” and the other was “design or improvement”. He is concerned that the long straight streets will lead to speeding rather than incorporating “traffic calming” features. The county will need to come back at some time and fix this deficiency. The developer is promoting an “agrihood”. Hartung would like to see such gardens distributed around the project. There is no such feature in this first tentative map. Hartung used a term “Mr. Potato Head design”, but he did not define it clearly. Duane Smith (County Engineer) claimed that there is a rigorous process between the approval of the tentative map and the final map. “These types of things will have to be met or the final map will not be approved.” Hartung expressed frustration that these changes are not available for public review. “This is not an innovative design.” He said the parks are too small. “This is not what you told me. What are you going to change with this to make this a better neighborhood?” Gordon claimed that this village conforms to the project “handbook” and that the large 10-acre park will be built by the 500th home. Gordon has offered additional undefined “amenities” and will be happy to work with Hartung to make improvements. Hartung is not happy that the developer appears to be doing the minimum to meet their zoning. Gordon was adamant that the plan did more than meet the minimum requirements. Hartung is not concerned about water: he expects that there will be more than enough available from Honey Lake through the Vidler pipeline.
Commissioner Alexis Hill said that she did not understand the reasons for the denial of the tentative map by the planning commission. Pelham replied that there were area plan policies that were not adequately addressed by this application. Also, the zoning amendment was approved with the condition that multiple housing types were required. This piece only includes the small-lot single-family homes. There was also a condition to include some passive solar elements which are not present in this plan. The street and lot layout does not look like the plan presented for the zoning amendment proposal. Hill went ahead to repeat most of Gordon’s points saying that she doesn’t have a problem with it.
Hartung went on to praise “curb and gutter and sidewalk” features in this development citing the nuisance with maintaining the open ditches used for drainage in rural areas. He went on to praise the developer’s plan to retain water on the property in a 1:1.5 ratio of the volume of the soil brought in to the volume of soil removed.
Commissioner Kitty Jung supports curb and gutter construction and would like to consider requiring these features more broadly.
Commissioner Bob Lucey asked Mike Railey (developer engineer) about their plan to introduce traffic calming features to reduce speeding. Railey replied that such details would be worked out with staff for the final map. “What this is is nothing like what we had the initial discussion about back in October 2019. We felt compelled that this was something that was going to meet the nature of that community.” “What you’ve presented in the tentative map does not represent anything that we’d initially had this discussion about. This is frustrating to me and disappointing to me.” If the board approves this plan, these issues need to be addressed. Curb-and-gutter construction brings additional maintenance cost to the county. “I’m disappointed that we’re talking about a tentative map that doesn’t look anything like what we initially discussed.” He hopes that the developer has heard the comments and concerns with the board and will move forward effectively to implement changes.
Commissioner Hill moved to overturn the decision of the planning commission and approve the tentative map as requested by the developer. The commission voted to overturn the decision of the planning commission with Jung, Hill, Lucey, and Hartung voting in the affirmative. Commissioner Herman voted “no”.
The issue raised during public comment of the ethical compromise that the commissioners make by accepting the developer money was studiously ignored by the commissioners. There was no defense of the current practice nor any admission that it is problematic. An observer might conclude that the commission accepts that it is a corrupt body.
MEETING VIDEO (jump to item 16 for Ascente, item 17 for Silver Hills)