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Council approves 142-unit development above Evans Creek Trail, rules against appealing Mortensen Ranch decision

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Carly Sauvageau

Reno City Council on Wednesday approved an amended plan for Desert Wind Homes to build a 28-acre housing development on the Rancho IV zone off Vista Rafael Parkway in north Reno. 

The Reno Planning Commission had issued a technical denial on the development on Nov. 3, 2021, and the amendments approved by council were in response to appeals made by local residents Manuel Souza and Brooke Siem against the development. 

The Council’s approval included a number of conditions for the plan, in addition to changes already made to the original plan by developer Desert Wind Homes.

Rancho IV zone is located right above the Evans Creek Canyon, a popular recreation area and home to several species of plants including an outcropping of full-grown Jeffery Pines and the rare Altered Andesite Buckwheat, also known as Granite Buckwheat. 

The agenda item drew public comment against the development from a number of residents, who voiced concerns of ruining public access to trails, the endangerment of the buckwheat and fire hazards. 

The area is prone to wildfires, not only in the summer but also in particularly dry winters. It is a common place to have to evacuate during the hot, dry summer months due to the high level of brush and grass on the hillside. 

A service road serves the Rancho IV zone, though there are two roads planned in the housing development. 

Commenters also said they feared trash, as there is already illegal dumping that happens on the trail. They said it will only be worsened by the presence of construction. 

They also don’t want construction to disturb the buckwheat. 

A rendering of revisions to the Rancho IV development presented to Reno City Council on Jan. 26, 2022.
A rendering of revisions to the Rancho IV development presented to Reno City Council on Jan. 26, 2022.

Another citizen expressed concern that the housing being built will not be affordable housing and his rent would go up in the Rancho III district. He had nowhere else to go, he said. 

A Change.org petition launched by Siem against approval of the housing development came to 1,600 signatures.

After many hours of discussion, Desert Wind Homes officials and city council members came to a compromise: the development site would move forward with caveats addressing these issues.

With these caveats, the development passed 6 to 1 with Council member Jenny Brekhus in opposition.

Councilwoman Naomi Duerr commended the citizens who appealed the development.

“We would not be here without Mr. Souza and Ms. Siem identifying these issues,” she said. “If they hadn’t appealed the project it would have been just what it was and we wouldn’t have been aware of these issues…and shout out to the applicant, the developer who listened.”

Pool facility to return to Moana Lane

Development of the Moana Springs Community Aquatics and Fitness Center at 240 West Moana Lane will proceed. The center will be located off of Moana Lane at the site of the former Moana Pool and will include a new pool and play fields. 

This will be the first CMAR project built since the Idlewild Park pool, which was built forty years ago. CMAR, short for Construction Manager At-Risk, allows more collaboration between the contractor and design team and requires the construction manager to complete the project with a guaranteed maximum price. It also requires the rankings and final scores of the applicants for the construction be available to the public, allowing more public participation in the building process.

Mortensen Ranch development to proceed 

Council members discussed the December decision by Judge Kathleen Drakulich to override the council’s decision denying Stan Lucas’ Mortensen Ranch development in west Reno. 

Mortensen Ranch would bring 650 new homes near Somersett. 

Homeowners in the area were pushing for the city to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Prior to the meeting, 100 public comments were submitted online and by email in favor of an appeal and two expressed concern. 

Reno City Council members participate in the Jan. 26, 2022 meeting. Image: Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno
Reno City Council members participate in the Jan. 26, 2022 meeting. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Council members discussed court costs and issues associated with the appeal. 

Council member Duerr said she thought the council should stand behind its denial and move forward with the appeal based on their years of expertise in approving and denying developments. She also said that by not appealing it would make the council appear as if it didn’t stand behind its original decision. 

Mayor Hillary Schieve said she was concerned with an appeal based on recent court losses in cases related to Swan Lake homes. 

“We’ve been here before, and we’ve lost before,” she said. 

Council member Neoma Jardon also expressed concerns that significant claims for damages could be levied against the city by the developer should the city win on appeal. She made the motion not to appeal Drakulich’s decision.

“This developer has been awful. Just awful,” Jardon said. “So this concept that we’re going to go back to the table and we’re going to get some redefined project and do a kumbaya–that’s not happening…They’re going to ride this all the way…It could cost the taxpayers millions.”

“I agree with the public sentiment about their concerns about this project,” Jardon said. “But it’s unfair to go out and not be transparent about the exposure to the taxpayers.” 

City Attorney Karl Hall said Lucas’ lawyer is already asking for $300,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. He hesitated to estimate how much more the city could have to pay, regardless of whether they won or lost the appeal. 

“I could see us getting to yes,” said Duerr, but she added that the developer wasn’t willing to work with the city to modify the development plans to meet city and community requests.

“I’m always about the negotiation…but this one strikes a nerve, the heart of what we do, that’s why I can’t support this motion, but I understand it’s a judgment call.”

Council member Oscar Delgado agreed.

“As much as I believe in principle…we don’t have a limitless amount of funds to continue fighting,” he said. 

The motion to accept the District Court’s ruling and not file an appeal passed 4 to 3 with Brekhus, Duerr and Reese in opposition.

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