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Judge overrules city council on 600-acre development near Verdi

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More than 650 new homes near Somersett are closer to reality after District Court Judge Kathleen Drakulich recently sided with developer Stan Lucas.

Nearby residents have been fighting the development in recent years. The Reno city council in 2020 voted down Stan Lucas’ Mortensen Ranch project and denied an appeal on the project.

“This project, and the way it has been handled, is the poster child for how not to do it,” council member Neoma Jardon said last year when the council denied an appeal of the project. 

Legal threats at the time, Jardon added, ended her willingness to negotiate a plan about the project. She said, however, development of homes at Mortensen Ranch is a certainty — a reality that Somersett residents accept. Jardon did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication today.

One resident called the ruling “very frustrating news.” 

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Council member Neoma Jardon.

City Manager Doug Thornley told This Is Reno the city is considering whether to appeal Drakulich’s decision.

“There are lots of reasons to appeal the decision, but we want to be set up for long-term success,” he said. 

Drakulich, in a 25-page ruling, found the council’s denial of the project “was without substantial evidentiary support, and consequently an abuse of discretion.”

She ordered the City of Reno to issue a tentative map for the 632-lot development and special use permits for aspects of the project. Drakulich said city staff provided evidence of the project’s conformance with development requirements, which the council disregarded.

Traffic, fire danger and development on hillsides were all part of why the council voted against the development.

City staff expressed concern about public safety access to the development. Still, Drakulich said they did not explicitly say fire emergency response times were out of compliance. The developers also agreed to install sprinkler systems for homes outside of a six-minute fire response time.

“It is undeniable that growth in northwest Reno has been expanding to the hillsides. However, the record is clear that homes exist in the adjacent Somersett development at elevations that exceed those planned for the Lucas Property (the Cliffs),” Drakulich wrote. “Lastly, the City’s Fire Marshall did not indicate an inability to serve the fire safety needs of the Lucas Property.”

Various phases of the development were approved by the City Council, she noted, so “why is the Lucas Property not the beneficiary of the Council’s precedent?”

The developers agreed to reduce the number of homes as part of the project. They also agreed to increase the space between the project and Somersett.

“Whether the concessions and changes made by Petitioners [were] sufficient mitigation was never even addressed by the Council,” she wrote.

The project is expected to draw 6,000 new vehicle trips each day.

“Petitioners’ traffic mitigation plan combined with Staff’s requirement for the submission of a revised traffic plan with the submission of each final map went uncontested, demonstrating that the mitigation of traffic impacts has been satisfied … and that the finding of nonconformance was not supported by substantial evidence,” Drakulich determined.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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