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Of decibels and demographics (commentary)

By ThisIsReno

The Barber Brief is an independent, free e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This is Reno with her permission.

By Alicia Barber

The year is speeding by so quickly, it’s hard to believe that it’s already May (especially considering yesterday’s freak snow squalls)! One consolation is that May is Reno’s birthday month—our beautiful city turns 154 this very day. For a glimpse back to Reno’s founding year of 1868, I invite you to read Jenny Kane’s recent article in the Reno Gazette-Journal about the Benham-Belz house at 347 West Street. My research indicates that it was built within months of the Central Pacific Railroad’s original land auction, a remarkable story of survival that offers us a rare glimpse into Reno’s fascinating origins as a modest but bustling national crossroads.

Fast forward to the present day, where you can catch City Council’s next meeting this Wednesday, May 11. The agenda and supporting materials can be accessed here, so be sure to skim through it for items of interest to you. I’ll just be talking about one today.

The Jacobs Glow Plaza and Festival Area

Item I.2 (that’s I as in Isaac) is the appeal of the Reno Planning Commission’s decision to approve a conditional use permit for Jacobs Entertainment’s “Glow Plaza and Festival Area.” This permit was approved by a slim 4-3 Planning Commission majority on March 16 (it was Item 5.3 on that agenda).

The proposed Glow Plaza and Festival Area as presented at the March 16, 2022 Planning Commission meeting by Jacobs Entertainment rep Garrett Gordon

For some background, conditional use permits are granted by the Planning Commission and in most cases (with a few exceptions including skyways) do not proceed to City Council unless someone files an appeal, in which case City Council can affirm, modify, or reverse the Planning Commission’s decision. So that’s what happening here. There were three appeals of this particular decision—two by downtown residents and one by Jacobs Entertainment, that last one to preserve the applicant’s right to judicial review. Jacobs is also arguing that neither of the other appellants has “standing” and that their appeals should be dismissed.

You can read the full staff report explaining the application and required findings here. Coincidentally, this weekend, the nonprofit Scenic Nevada released a very helpful Special Alert about this appeal as well as the status of their lawsuit against the City over the Development Agreement with Jacobs, so please read that, too.

I’ve written about the proposed “Glow Plaza and Festival Area” before: in my March 12 post called “Putting the Pieces Together,” I compiled what information I could assemble about Jacobs’ future plans (including a TV interview with Jeff Jacobs that seemed largely to have gone under the radar); and in my February 7 Brief, “Reno’s Next Big Gamble,” I explained how this project diverges from the city’s specific Master Plan guidelines for designated Urban Corridors like Fourth Street.

I won’t rehash those two posts, but my overall points were first, that Jacobs’ plans for this area diverge markedly from the approved, publicly vetted Master Plan for this pivotal central urban corridor, and that considering each of Jacobs’ new projects in a vacuum is not allowing for full consideration of how everything in the area will work together. So feel free to read those through.

You can watch the March 16 presentation to the Planning Commission from Jacobs Entertainment’s representative, attorney Garrett Gordon, starting here, and City staff’s presentation here

[A quick note here: My husband, Mark Johnson, was appointed to the Reno Planning Commission by Ward 2 Councilmember Naomi Duerr in 2015. Prior to the March 16 meeting, Mark consulted with the City attorney’s office, who provided him with the text of a disclosure that his wife (yours truly) writes a blog about City development, including commentary on Jacobs projects, and that it had been determined that my authorship of the Brief would not materially affect his independent judgment of any such items, and that I derive no benefit or detriment from his deliberations or decisions—all true for this and every other project he or I might discuss.]

The problematic nature of the piecemeal plan

As Mr. Gordon noted in his introduction, this was his first appearance in front of the Planning Commission on behalf of Jacobs Entertainment. That will likely come as a surprise to some, considering the magnitude of the area covered by the City’s Development Agreement with the company.

The exclusion of the Planning Commission from review of Development Agreements was a deliberate decision on the part of our sitting City Council; as I wrote in my April 13, 2021 Brief, when revising that section of City Code back in September of 2020, Council rejected the Planning Commission’s own recommendation that they be allowed to review all Development Agreements prior to Council review. (The Planning Commission had also recommended that community workshops be held to discuss Development Agreements prior to any vote, which as we know, did not happen, either.)

The Glow Plaza has been discussed in Jacobs’ many presentations in front of Council, but neither it nor any Festival Area was described in the Development Agreement. As a reminder, that agreement left any actual development besides expansion and renovation of The Sands entirely vague. Below is its only reference to outdoor entertainment venues as part of an “array” of promised offerings to be included somewhere at some point (the document watermarked “Draft” is still the only one the City has posted, so I’m wondering exactly when—or if?–the agreement was finalized).

What would this permit allow? Read more on The Barber Brief.

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