Traffic congestion, school overcrowding, water availability and open space are top of mind in the North Valleys these days.
Residents are faced with noted traffic slow-downs — as well as increased car accidents at certain intersections — during commute hours on the four-lane U.S. Highway 395, and some are questioning how the North Valleys is going to cope with even more growth.
When the Amazon warehouse was built recently, the facility took residents by surprise. Even former County Commissioner Bonnie Weber said she was unaware of what was being built until it was announced in the news media.
Next door to Amazon is another giant warehouse nearing completion. Further north on North Virginia Street is a mega industrial development under construction in a tract previously designated for residential homes before the land went fallow during the recession.
The University of Nevada, Reno is trying to sell one of its properties for $550,000 for commercial development.
The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority is prepping to develop vacant areas of the Reno-Stead Airport, another announcement that took nearby residents by surprise last spring.
A standing-room only crowd gathered at the North Valleys Community Advisory Board meeting in April to express displeasure at the prospect of new development at the airport.
And developers are proposing new apartments along Sky Vista Parkway on vacant tracts, developments capable of housing hundreds of people.
On one 55-acre parcel, according to the developer, “the proposed density will (allow) for 14 dwelling units per acre. This is an appropriate density and intensity for the 55-acre parcel.”
In total, a number of new commercial and residential developments, including thousands of new residential units, are projected in the near future.
North Valley residents, already feeling the strain of ongoing development, are getting testy.
Lemmon Valley Land Annexation Protested
Lemmon Valley residents last week protested at a Reno City Council Meeting an ordinance introduction that would annex to the city nearly 734 acres on both sides of Lemmon Drive in the North Valleys.
Residents questioned the availability of water, impacts to traffic and how the land will be developed.
City Councilman Paul McKenzie said that city annexation of the property would reduce the number homes built and provide for better services to the area.
“Washoe County issued the development plan out there quite awhile ago,” he said. “The impacts on the Lemmon Valley community … are actually going to be lower than what the Washoe County development plan was. There’s already a plan out there, and if we don’t go through the annexation … then those impacts would be felt throughout the community without even a hearing on it.
“Some of those traffic improvements will be the burden of the developer,” he added. “There’s going to have to be significant mitigation to change that from open space.”
Residents were not satisfied with the response, having heard about the annexation plans 10 days prior to the City Council meeting through a mailing sent by the city.
“We live in the county on purpose,” said one Lemmon Valley resident during public comment. “We don’t live in Reno because we don’t want to live in Reno. I’ve lived in Lemmon Valley for 35 years, and I’ve watched what the Reno City Council has done — much of it, I have disapproved of and have been very glad that I was not a part of Reno for that reason.
“We will not have representation in Reno for what Reno decides to do on that property if you annex it. The developer has not done anything to make the citizens of Lemmon Valley aware of what’s going on. Please don’t annex any more. We don’t like Reno land grabs.”
But Bill Thomas, assistant city manager, said that the annexation process is a property owner’s right, and the request did not come from the city.
“This was a request by the property owner, which would be to annex the property under the city’s jurisdiction,” he explained. “The question before you is one of jurisdiction on this property. This is not a City of Reno requested annexation; this is a response to the private landowner asking for their land to be included by the City of Reno.
“By state law … the landowner’s allowed to ask the (City) Council whether they would like to annex the property.”
But Lemmon Valley residents want to see it stay with the county.
According to McKenzie, the Lemmon Valley area under the county has zoning for 5,000 units. The city annexation would give the property owner the right to only 1,700 units, as well as services provided by the city, such as fire, sewer and water.
The so-called Tesla effect is being felt in the North Valleys by way of many impacts, with traffic chief among them. The Regional Transportation Commission is conducting a traffic study of the region to find problem areas.
It’s not unusual for a 10-minute drive from the North Valleys into Reno to take up to hour during poor road conditions — construction, accidents, ice.
A single car accident on southbound 395 during the morning commute can back up traffic for anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes.
RTC has already identified poor condition traffic areas, include the on/off ramps at Lemmon Drive and U.S. 395, which RTC has given an F grade during peak commute times.
“Level of service F means the traffic volume exceeds the roadway or intersection capacity, and road users experience long delays,” according to RTC’s Dr. Xuan Wang.
Parr Boulevard and the U.S. 395 on- and off-ramps — near TMCC and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office — also received an F.
Stead Boulevard and Silver Lake Road has had 56 car accidents in the past five years, while Lemmon Drive and Sky Vista Parkway had 28 accidents.
RTC’s study — which is looking at existing studies, traffic, land use, safety, transit and pedestrian and bicycle issues — is expected to take about a year.
“We’re sitting on a lot of very bad intersections out there right now. Hopefully we’ll start seeing improvements ,” said McKenzie about the RTC’s traffic study. Under the county’s jurisdiction, he added, traffic improvements can’t be done by the developer who wants the city to annex his property.
Nowhere Else To Go
It’s inevitable. Like it or not, development is coming.
Councilwoman Naomi Duerr said that growth is being driven to Reno’s outlying areas, including the North Valleys, South Meadows and Verdi.
She said that the City Council is cognizant of county growth issues.
“Your council right now is paying a lot of attention to county residents, and that’s been my observation over and over this last year,” she said. “I think this is one of the most difficult things that we’re facing. It seems like with any development, obviously traffic is always a key concern. Management of these roads is going to be key.”
The City Council ultimately approved the Lemmon Valley property’s annexation. According to city documents, the property will be zoned for single-family residential and open space.
Later at last week’s City Council meeeting, an ordinance was passed that would increase residential units by 72, from 2,286 to 2,358, in the North Valleys on the west side of Sky Vista Parkway. So another project of 72 new multifamily residential units will be allowed in lieu of commercial uses.
Councilman Paul McKenzie, in response to this project, raised the issue of problematic traffic already being seen in the North Valleys.
“I think that we (did not do) our due diligence approving this PUD (planned unit development), that we weren’t given information from the developer that (would) help us meet the standards…,” he said.
“We need to figure the traffic impacts upon what we’ve already got building permits for, not based upon what was taken midday or midweek in a study by the developer… This PUD amendment is solely for the benefit of the developer.”
A city staff member disagreed with McKenzie and said that the traffic impacts from this development would be minimal.
Ultimately the City Council approved a motion, 6 to 1, to amend the ordinance, allowing for the development.
McKenzie was the only dissenting vote.