Zombie Projects

By statute, the developer has 4 years from approval of the tentative map until they complete the final map.  Otherwise, the approval expires.  But, the county can amend the approval agreement to extend the deadline.  Presumably, the developer wants to wait until the market has an upswing to advance the project when it will be most profitable.  The Washoe County Commissioners have been very obliging in extending these agreements.  Most of the ones on the books now (over 60,000 dwellings) were approved before the Great Recession of 2007.  This poses a serious problem since no one knows if these projects will be revived.  There is no way to plan development responsibly if you do not know if one of these projects will “arise from the dead”.  Current planning actually prohibits considering cumulative effects, so a large zombie project is not considered when new developments are reviewed in the area.  If the zombie project gets built at a later date, the traffic, flooding, and school overcrowding may be completely out of control.  These zombie projects are already approved and may receive no further public review.  The developer can complete the final map documentation working only with the county staff and get permits to build.  It is irresponsible of the commissioners to routinely extend these agreements.  It is another way that we see them favor the special interests over the residents, the homeowners, and the taxpayers.

One developer pointed out that as the housing market changes, old projects are not appealing without updating.  Any change, would require a new tentative map and new approvals by the Planning Commission.  There does not seem to be a point to perpetuating these approvals for a decade or more.  Perhaps, the developer (or speculator) sees the approval as increasing the value of the property even if the developer does not go ahead and build to the approved plan.  If the developer decides not to build but rather to “flip” the property, he can claim that it already has a development plan approved.  If the buyer is from out of state, he may not be aware of the difficulty involved with making any changes.