A proposed housing development in the North Valleys has been met with staunch opposition by local residents. But the development is offering a unique proposal for the community: an agrihood.
The agrihood, which is a community that integrates agriculture into a residential neighborhood, would be the first in Nevada.
Lifestyle Homes, Inc., a locally-based, family-owned and operated company has been trying to develop the project in the Silver Knolls community for the past few years.
According to county documents, the project would be located on both the west and east sides of Red Rock Road. The proposed development would feature “lots as small as 3,700 square feet on the west side of Red Rock Road and lots as small as half an acre on the East side.” The development plans also include 45,000 square feet of commercial space and 30 acres for personal and vehicle storage, such as for RVs and boats.
Local residents equally support and oppose the proposed development, with extremely passionate views on the proposal coming from both sides. The pros and cons weigh in heavily for both current and prospective North Valleys residents.
The hot topic issue has been debated for years now with multiple proposals, appeals, revisions and community meetings held by the Washoe County Board of Commissioners. Heavily attended, one such meeting had heated opinion met with a warning issued to attendees by Commissioner Chair Vaughn Hartung that he would not “allow things to get out of hand.”
From the inside
Community Liaison for Lifestyle Homes and self-described “agri-activist” Wendy Baroli has been passionately pursuing the project. Baroli, however, was originally against the project because of a personal experience she had involving her family’s ranch on Lakeside Drive years ago. That experience ingrained in her a great concern for unchecked and rapid development.
“The displacement without a sense of community has always been troublesome to me in terms of our growth in Reno,” which Baroli described as “boom bust.”
“We (Reno) always do it: expand, expand, expand, then we crash and everyone goes away except the people who have always lived here and we are left with half finished projects like unfinished sidewalks and housing developments.”
But Baroli is adamant that Lifestyle Homes is different. The company, owned by the Lissner family, has been in business for 37 years, and in her opinion have a proven track record of “providing homes that provide community.”
Baroli, who is a Northern Nevada resident and owner of Girl Farm, a 95-acre farm just north of Reno, said this was the principle reason that she not only switched her view on the project, but took the position as community liaison for the Lissner family.
“It’s interesting to belong to something I would have never supported even five years ago. Conceptually the reason I got involved with the developer is because they are actually a family business, not some big giant developer like we think of. They are community builders; they’ve been building affordable homes for years.”
She added that the proposed development is contemporary, with the developer placing a great amount of attention on the “evolution of community design” and “actually providing services and infrastructure for the community.”
What they really should be doing is showing up at DOT meetings and saying, ’We need mass transit.’”
Baroli also claims the opposition’s assertions that there would be no logistical support are unwarranted, because by law Lifestyle Homes cannot break ground until they can provide proof of infrastructure such as sewer, power and roads.
“We’ve been to the Commission three times, Planning, the Governing Board and multiple meetings with residents. The end result being the developer footing the bill partially for county infrastructure,” Baroli said.
“You can’t just put up houses randomly. I believe the best way to bridge the urban and suburban environments is to build a bridge in order to build a community instead of just housing.”
“Pariah of the area”
One of the challenges that Lifestyle faces is how to navigate the perceptions of long-time residents in the area. According to Baroli, even though current zoning shows it’s a “low density suburban area,” the community considers it rural.
Acknowledging the fear and frustrations of North Valleys residents already have over increasing traffic and density, Baroli was not shy in her suggested solution and opinion.
“Here is the thing: Nevada DOT needs to get on the stick and instead of citizens showing up at civil meetings and saying ‘No development,’ what they really should be doing is showing up at DOT meetings and saying, ’We need mass transit.’”
“And we should have asked Elon Musk and Switch and all of those guys to put in a speed train when they got all those tax breaks. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
One component of the proposed development is the installment of a 10-acre working orchard accessible to the community. But neighbors of the proposed orchard do not want it Baroli says, stating their contentment with the status quo and also their isolation.
Baroli says the idea is based on the concept of an “edible community, rural by design” and offered an example of walking paths adorned with blackberries.
She also cited effective agrihoods in other states like Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, Texas and Californias. In these agrihoods, communities have access to the local food through purchase at co-ops and community centers where locals can pick up their CSA baskets. CSA, or community supported agriculture, is a practice where community members subscribe to a farm or farmer and receive an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables each week.
Some existing residents are vehemently opposed to Baroli’s vision though, specifically the Silver Knolls Community Organization.
Headed by president Russ Earl, the organization has been relentless in their open opposition to the proposal. Earl argued that the City of Reno has already annexed a portion of land between Red Rock and Cold Springs for the Evans Ranch and Silver Star developments. With Evans Ranch already approved for over 6,000 homes, the proposed Lifestyle development would constitute not only a burden, but a hazard.
In this saga of flipped opinions, Earl was originally in support of and in negations with the Lissners for the original plan of 680 homes. But he changed positions when he says they “reneged all the agreements.”
“Their first proposal was 680, then 2,340 homes, then they came back with 1,600 something, then 1,872. So yes, we are opposed to the density,” Earl said.
This claim was rejected, however, by Peter S. Lissner, CEO and part owner of Lifestyle Homes, Inc.
“Years ago when we were looking for zoning for the property, one home per acre made a lot of sense,” Lissner explained. “People wanted horse properties and there wasn’t a shortage for housing. But as times changed, and the need for housing and increased construction costs changed, heavily, building one-per-acre just doesn’t make sense. In our mind it’s bad planning. There was never a written agreement. We didn’t break any contracts.”
Lissner also expressed concern about Russ Earl’s suggested solution of building fewer houses with an increased average price of $600,000.
“We want to build a product for everybody. So the working class can afford them, from the $250-$280,000 range, and some custom lots. But 680 one-acre lots just didn’t make sense anymore.”
But Earl is adamant in his position, claiming the proposal does not “fit anything else that is zoned out here” and described the project as a “pariah of the area” and would create “Level D and F traffic issues” in direct violation of county standards.
Earl added that, “Reno is not the smartest with bond measures that are absurd.”
He also warned Washoe County taxpayers would be stuck paying $7.8 million in road impact fees, and that studies done by the RTC show the figure at $52 million in order to expand Red Rock Road.
The 2019 Truckee Meadows Regional Plan projected estimate of population growth by the year 2038 is at least 40,000 additional housing units and 100,000 people to Reno, Sparks, North Valleys and Washoe County.
In regard to the agrihood portion of the development, Earl said the Silver Knolls Community Organization’s official opinion was indifferent, but personally described it as “great lipstick on a pig.”
He dismissed the agrihood as a smokescreen and potentially hazardous and costly.
“That has been their whole premise: that we live in a fresh food desert and that people will be able to grow their own produce, be environmentally friendly, use effluent on the crops.
“But that’s not whole-heartedly true, so they aren’t being completely honest with us. We are a closed hydrologic basin. There is no place for the effluent even if you built a new sewage treatment plant, which is incredibly expensive,” Earl said.
But Lissner disagrees with density being a negative factor, specifically in regard to the agrihood.
“We are going to build it,” he stated confidently, “and hopefully because we were able to get more density, we are able to do a better job with the agrihood. And we are going to take some of that extra profit we would have made and put it right back into (what i’m hoping is) a fantastic, modern day cool community where people want to hang out.”
Lissner was adamant about his family’s uncompromising passion and direct involvement with the quality of their developments, a devotion apparent by the company’s A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. He also expressed a personal concern for past and present development in Reno and summed up Lifestyle’s perspective and approach to the development.
“I’m out on the job site on a daily basis, meeting with the homeowners. We walk our product all day long. We have to do it right. We have to build a great house because we are still mingling with the customers. I want to create something that is really bad-ass, and I’m willing to take less of a profit to make something that’s way cool.”