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Riverside Drive apartment development to proceed after appeal denied

By Jeri Chadwell

An appeal to stop the construction of a four-story, 34-unit apartment complex on Riverside Drive in downtown Reno has failed.

The development sits squarely within Reno’s historical Powning Addition. It’s now one of three historical conservation districts and was established by C.C. Powning in the late 19th century as a modest, working-class neighborhood. Now it includes many historically significant buildings, including the McKinley Park School, Ambassador Apartments, Lora J. Knight House, Lear Theater (formerly the First Church of Christ, Scientist) and the 20th Century Club.

The site for the new apartment development was previously approved in 2006 for an 11-unit condo complex to be called Ponte Vecchio, but that development fell through with the onset of the Great Recession. 

The new project has drawn criticism since it was approved earlier this year and several trees, including a few century-old elms on the site, were cut down.

The City of Reno issued a building permit for the project on March 23, 2021. The application for it was submitted in July of 2020.

The new permit was appealed by four people, including two who own property in the area, eight days after it was issued. One appellant, who did not own property in the area, withdrew before the hearing began.

Those appealing the building permit claimed that it will “cause parking and traffic issues” and that it “should have to meet the conditions agreed to in the 2006 Ponte Vecchio project,” according to court documents, and further alleged it will “cause storm drain issues.”

The original Ponte Vecchio development was intended to be three stories. The new development will have four stories, including first-floor parking and commercial space.

A nearly century-old tree was felled on Washington Street to make way for Urban Lion's new development before community members and city officials stepped in on Feb. 25, 2021.
A nearly century-old tree was felled on Washington Street to make way for Urban Lion’s new development before community members and city officials stepped in on Feb. 25, 2021. Image: Jeri Davis / This Is Reno

The City of Reno and the development company, Urban Lion, argued that the original Ponte Vecchio project—for which two historical homes were moved to another site, one of which burned to the ground several years ago—is “not relevant … particularly since the code has changed and the prior land use approval has expired.”

According to the court documents, “The City specifically asserts that the building permit signifies that the plans for the construction or alteration fully complied with all building codes or zoning codes in effect at the time, and therefore the landowner is allowed to move forward with the project.”

The City of Reno adopted a new Annexation and Land Development Code on Jan. 13 of this year. Because the application for the building permit was submitted before the new development code was adopted, it was grandfathered in under the old development code.

The project includes the abandonment of one block of Washington Street, abutting Lundsford Park to the east. The new apartment complex will extend across where the street currently runs. 

The roadway abandonment was approved and recorded with the Washoe County Recorder’s Office as part of the previous project’s approval and, according to City of Reno officials, “once recorded, the abandonment is forever.”

Development plans weren’t as immutable, critics said, and fly in the face of both the intent of previous city councils and current restrictions for the historic district.

The project was approved as a part of Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and the City of Reno’s “1,000 Homes in 120 Days” resolution. Those appealing it asserted that the building permit for the project should have been revoked because it does not promote the building of affordable housing.

The city and developer countered that while the resolution “provides incentives for development of projects that are close to or being ready for a building permit in order to speed things up … there is no requirement for affordable housing.”

The hearing officer also noted that the development is consistent with several Master Plan goals including supporting infill, diverse housing types and moving from low intensity to high intensity land use.

The new development will have one parking space for each of its 34 units, plus one parking space per 10 units to account for guest parking. Extra parking for the planned, future commercial part of the development was determined to be unnecessary. 

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