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Home > News > Government > Throwing Shade: A city ordinance change will reduce public input on luxury hotel project (updated)

Throwing Shade: A city ordinance change will reduce public input on luxury hotel project (updated)

By Bob Conrad
The Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Church on Island Avenue is opposed to a luxury high-rise proposed to be constructed next door. Image: Bob Conrad.

UPDATE (December 12, 2019): The Reno City Council voted yesterday to approve the ordinance change. Councilmembers Jenny Brekus and Naomi Duerr opposed the motion, made by Councilmember Devon Reese, to change the shading ordinance.

Mayor Schieve called the decision incredibly difficult. She cited the need to remove red tape to increase development — housing in particular.

Critics, however, said that rationale translates to removing the public from the process.

More than 200 people wrote and spoke against the ordinance change.


A high-rise project on the Truckee River downtown is drawing opposition before plans for the development have been provided to the city. Critics say a change to a city ordinance regarding the shading at public parks and plazas would reduce opportunity for public input on a 20-story hotel and office building across from Wingfield Park. 

The Reno City Council is taking up the matter at tomorrow’s council meeting. The change proposed by the city would remove language that requires “approval of a special use permit” for projects that may impact shade at city parks and plazas. 

Currently the project would have to go through a special use permit process, which would have to be approved by the city’s planning commission. It could then be appealed to the Reno City Council.

The city’s proposed change would eliminate that process.

“This is going to be the first ground-up, non-gaming, non-smoking, upper upscale hotel ever built in Northern Nevada.”

City officials denied that there was a correlation between this ordinance and the proposed hotel project by Las Vegas developer CAI Investments. The ordinance change, in fact, would impact all downtown Reno properties.

“There is no specific project that has been submitted to the City of Reno,” said Angela Fuss, city planning manager. “One of the, kind of, the impetus for this, among other reasons, was the desire for more housing, the desire for more infill-type development and not sprawl.”

But the developer wants the ordinance changed now. The project hinges upon a deadline for Opportunity Zone benefits. 

The project is listed as one of the city’s 1,000 homes in 120 days projects. Mayor Hillary Schieve is promoting the campaign to eliminate up-front development fees. The goal: to stimulate building new residential units in the city’s designated Opportunity Zones. Once built, developers would then pay the fees.

City documents show that the downtown parcel is included in the first list of projects submitted as part of that campaign. Though originally billed as a hotel, the city shows the project having an estimated 46 units. 

The church’s opposition

The property is a vacant lot adjacent to the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Church on Island Avenue. A 20-story building, on a 1.3-acre lot, would be one of the tallest built in Reno since the 1990s.

Its height drew concerns for those opposed to the project in its currently discussed form.

“We hope that the special-use process stays in place,” said Lynne Charlat of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Church.

Shade from the development would impact the temperature of the church’s sidewalks, causing them to freeze in the winter, she explained. Parking problems would increase.

“We are not against the development; we are against the density of the development being proposed,” she added. 

Charlat said that the hotel project would impact the church at a cost of up to $250,000. She said the church would need new heated sidewalks.

Others in opposition said the building’s size would negatively impact the river’s ecosystem.

15 Projects

The luxury hotel and office building is one of more than a dozen projects proposed as part of the 1,000 Homes in 120 Days campaign. The 20-story building is anticipated to have 46 permanent residences.

Developer’s perspective

CAI Investments revealed plans for the project in September. It closed on the property in late November.

“This is going to be the first ground-up non-gaming, non-smoking, upper upscale hotel ever built in Northern Nevada,” said CAI Investments CEO Chris Beavor. 

Attorney Garrett Gordon argued to the City Council in favor of the project on behalf of the developer.

“We have to raise that capital, and deploy that capital, by the end of this year,” he said. “It’s a federal … IRS regulation.”

CAI applied for a variance to the city but removed the application after the “1,000 Homes” campaign was announced. 

“[The ordinance] is for parks and plazas, it’s not for churches,” he explained. “Let’s do a narrow amendment to allow for the density of development in downtown. 

“When council initiated the text amendment with changes from staff without the use permit, we withdrew our variance application, and we kind of sat back and watched this process play out when it met all your criteria.”

Gordon said that he met with the church to mitigate some of the project’s impacts. The developer committed $200,000 to help. He said the church then upped the amount they needed $350,000.

“We’ll be a good neighbor, and despite the opposition … we’ll still write a check for $200,000,” he said. “We’ll still give them 50 free parking spaces. Let’s do this project.”

Mixed reactions on council

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus
Council Member
Jenny Brekhus.

Mayor Schieve expressed support for the high-rise.

“A lot of what we’ve talked about is that infill downtown and how do we make that happen,” she said, citing the need for “building up, not out. That was the intent of the initiative. It was all types of housing.”

Councilmember Jenny Brekhus opposed the ordinance change at the city’s Dec. 4, 2019 meeting. 

“When this first came forward, it was explained as broad public policy setting,” she told This Is Reno. “As we got further in, it’s the changing of a longstanding ordinance for one massive development project.

“That always raises flags in terms priorities,” she added. “If this is not about one project, it sounds more and more that it is. The conversation started with this project’s representative about this ordinance change when we have a whole bunch more lined up to do.”

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8 comments

Avatar
Lynne Charlat December 21, 2019 - 11:21 am

To quote Mr. Gordon above, “We’ll still give them 50 free parking spaces. Let’s do this project.”

To quote “The Agreement” that was in process of negotiation:

“Trinity Parking. Item 4 in the Trinity Memo states, “Approximately 50 free parking spaces for our parishioners on Sundays and for special events.” CAI agrees to provide Trinity withdonate 50 free parking spaces on Sundays to Trinity, subject to the following conditions: (i) the location of the 50 spaces are selected by CAI in its sole and absolute discretion; (ii) CAI’s office tenants must agree in writing that providing these 50 spaces on Sundays does not create a hardship on or materially impair the tenants’ business operations; (iii) Trinity will maintain commercial liability insurance and name CAI as an additional insured; (iv) Trinity will indemnity and hold harmless CAI for any loss or damage to persons or property as a result of Trinity using the 50 parking spaces on the CAI Property; and (v) the Parties must enter into a parking agreement with the abovementioned terms. CAI will use reasonable efforts to obtain written consent from the office tenants that providing these 50 spaces on Sundays will not create a hardship on or materially impair the tenants’ business operations. CAI’s legal counsel will provide a draft parking agreement with 10 business days after the Text Amendment is approved on December 411, 2019 without the requirement of a special use permit (or other land use approval).”

Mr. Gordon’s bald-faced lie to the City Council is a bit shameful. First and foremost, Trinity must first agree to not protest the special use permit, and then any other variance in perpetuity, as well as agree to never sue CAI for any reason into perpetuity. Second, future tenants must all agree their business operations cannot be impaired by allowing Trinity to have 50 parking spaces. Third, future tenants must all agree to provide 50 parking spaces to Trinity if we provide liability insurance, hold CAI harmless blah, blah, blah. Mr. Gordon’s only role in all of this is to ask the future tenants to do so, nicely.

A little honesty would be nice, Mr. Gordon.

Avatar
Sam Toll December 18, 2019 - 11:23 am

It really frosts my cupcakes to see how little the elected officials take our public comment into account before they decide. In Storey County, our commissioners hear from 300 people opposing the effluent pipeline going to TRIC and two people in favor of it and then approve the measure.

Their minds are made up before the vote and they never change.

Elect responsive officials.

Avatar
Kathy Doyle December 17, 2019 - 11:49 am

Well, there are hotels that are non gaming here in Reno. The Reinnasance, Whitney Peaks are two.
It was only after you found out that 100 houses in 120 days was announced by our Mayor. It is know at 64 apartments, but none will be affordable. You brought in your larger hotel after bringing in your other hotels by moving people out that lived there because that is what Reno can truly afford.

Avatar
Fr. Chuck Durante December 17, 2019 - 8:54 am

I oppose the lifting of this ordinance without further study. We already have serious shading issues downtown and we don’t need to add another. Equally important, this proposed project does nothing for affordable housing downtown, as I understand it. Rather, it will be, in addition to more hotel rooms, upscale residences with upscale rent.
Fr. Chuck Durante
Rector
St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral

Avatar
Victoria A Williams December 17, 2019 - 8:16 am

How does an ‘upper upscale hotel’ qualify in the 1,000 homes project?

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad December 17, 2019 - 11:19 am

Great question. It appears the 40+ residential units in the hotel were submitted to the city after the 1,000 homes project was announced.

Avatar
Kerry Marrinez December 12, 2019 - 7:49 pm

The Whitney Peak is another non-smoking non-gaming hotel in downtown Reno.

Avatar
Joann Smith December 11, 2019 - 6:46 am

The Renaissance is an upscale, non smoking, non gaming hotel in Reno. the S. legacy is a hotel with 29 floors. Just to set the facts straight.

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