The Washoe County Commission on Tuesday voted to appeal a case to the Nevada Supreme Court involving the denial of a tentative subdivision map in the Lemmon Valley area.
The case surrounds Lakes at Lemmon Valley LLC ’s plans to create a 98-single-family home subdivision on 34 acres near the intersection of Military Road and Lemmon Drive.
County commissioners denied the development due to access issues that include right-in/right-out, U-turn inefficiency, and bus access difficulties. Right in/right-outs are types of three-way intersections that permit only right turns.
District Judge Barry Breslow last month sided with the developer, saying such issues don’t justify the denial of the planning application.
Commissioner Bob Lucey said planning should reside at the county, where the public has the opportunity to discuss issues in open forums.
“That’s why we have these meetings. That’s why we schedule and agendize them,” Lucey said. “A courtroom is not that place. A courtroom is a place where a judge gets to decide one way or the other. That is not, in my view, a venue which planning should take place.”
Commission Chairman Vaughn Hartung agreed and said he’s “terribly concerned” about courts overriding planning decisions.
“With all due respect to Judge Breslow, I’m fairly certain he did not go to school for planning,” Hartung said. “And while I recognize his acumen in being able to look at cases for their merit, I believe that in this particular case, we did make the right decision.”
Tammy Holt-Still, a member of the Lemmon Valley/Swan Lake Recovery Committee, cited safety concerns with the proposed development and encouraged commissioners to appeal the case.
“We could use that money in Lemmon Valley in a much better way.”
“A fire engine will have to go all the way up and find another way around to get through traffic to get to a fire,” Holt-Still said. “And when the homes are so close together, the whole thing is going to be on fire. There are too many issues that can happen with the way this is developed.”
Stephen Mollath, attorney for the Lakes at Lemmon Valley, said damages for both his client and the county would occur due to denial of the project.
“This was a pretty simple land-use planning action, right-in/right out use of a U-turn, no zone change, no master plan amendment, no special use permit, very simple…” Mollath told commissioners. “There’s really nothing about this case that tells me that this is a protection of your jurisdiction.”
Hartung acknowledged there are other right-in/right-outs in the area but many don’t work well.
“Although there have been a number of right in/right-outs—I can cite many around the region—I can also cite how they’ve failed miserably around the region,” Hartung said. “For that reason, we have started to move away from that utilization.”
The 3-1 vote to appeal had Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler dissenting, noting fiscal factors. The developer is seeking legal fees, which are currently at $45,000.
“Maybe $100,000 in legal fees isn’t significant, but if the party goes after us from the perspective of damages to the developer, I think they could be significant,” Berkbigler said. “We could use that money in Lemmon Valley in a much better way.”
“On the other hand, I have concerns about adding more housing out there until we’ve resolved the problem of the water in the lake,” she added.
Deputy District Attorney Nathan Edwards said the appeal’s timeline is subject to the court’s discretion, although decisions typically take 12 to 18 months. The Supreme Court could refer the case to the Nevada Court of Appeals or decide to hear it.
Commissioner Kitty Jung was at the 23rd annual Lake Tahoe Summit and did not attend the meeting.
May 2018 – The Washoe County Planning Commission denied the Lakes at Lemmon Valley’s application because it found requirements for access to the development weren’t satisfied according to code.
November 2018 – The Lakes then appealed to the Board of County Commissioners, which sided with planning commissioners.
December 2018 – The Lakes filed a petition for judicial review in Second Judicial District Court and oral arguments were heard in July.
July 2019 – Oral arguments were heard July 11. On July 19, the court issued an order requiring the county to approve the tentative map.
August 2019 – Washoe County commissioners direct the District Attorney to file an appeal.
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.