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LifeChurch Primary School approved despite Damonte Ranch residents’ concerns 

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A private primary school has been approved for development by Reno City Council within the Damonte Ranch neighborhood amidst resident concerns over traffic issues — and an appeal by the Washoe County School District. 

LifeChurch is located on a 10-acre property off Rio Wrangler Parkway which includes a church building, child development center, parking lot, lawn and playground, and a small structure from the previous commercial dog kennel operation that was once housed on the site and will be demolished. 

A minor conditional use permit was issued to develop the church into a primary school which was met with three appeals from nearby residents and the Washoe County School District. A number of residents came to voice their opposition to the proposed school, citing concerns over traffic, noise and evacuation routes. More than 100 individuals sent in public comment, with only eight in favor of the proposal. 

A number of commenters on Wednesday said the church has added value to the community, but Council member Naomi Duerr said the church’s value wasn’t the focus of the appeal. 

Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr. Image: City of Reno.
Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr.

“We’re not here to talk about the value of the church, because the church is incredibly valuable,” she said. “It’s a phenomenal resource to the community. That goes without saying. They’re very community-oriented. But today, we’re here to talk about our permit process and our findings.” 

The Damonte Ridge Homeowners Association appealed the decision based on traffic and noise concerns. Washoe County School District also appealed the decision for “inconsistencies with Master Plan policies,” specifically citing that there are no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings along the McCauley Ranch Boulevard frontage. 

According to Andy Durling of Wood Rogers, who spoke on behalf of LifeChurch, students will increase based on construction phases. The “zero” phase will accommodate up to 80 students in the existing KidsLife building for grades K-3, followed by up to 140 students in grades K-6 in the Phase 1 building to be built in 2025. Finally, up to 360 students will be housed in the Phase 2 expansion slated for 2028. 

Durling said traffic will be mitigated with a one-hour separation from Damonte Ranch High School’s start and end times, so both schools are not beginning and letting out at the same time. In addition, Durling said LifeChurch will dedicate land for a roundabout on Rio Wrangler and McCauley Ranch, will install a crosswalk and relocate school zone flashers. 

He also said that traffic impacts do not result in levels of service above the regional standards. The road capacity is made for 14,000 daily trips, and is currently averaging around 5,000 trips per day. The school’s addition could create another 1,500 daily trips, Durling said. 

Assistant Development Services Director Angela Fuss said schools are appropriate for residential zones. “We know we want schools next to houses,” she said. 

Appellant Mary Harger, president of Damonte Ridge HOA, said if the school were approved they would like specific relief from the city and LifeChurch to mitigate potential sound issues from increased traffic. 

Specifically, Harger asked for Rio Wrangler to have a permanent speed reduction to 15-20 mph, for LifeChurch to contribute $70,000 to the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) for the installation of “horizontal traffic calming measures,” contribute an additional $100,000 to RTC to upgrade Rio Wrangler pavement to noise-reducing rubberized asphalt, and to contribute $150,000 to the HOA to upgrade the perimeter vinyl fence from six feet to eight feet in height. 

“When you see how much they’re bringing in in revenue and the disruption they are causing to our community, we hope you would consider those conditions for us,” Harger said. 

“I don’t think it’s a good example of planning. it’s very incremental. It’s supposed to be a sanctuary or a meeting place, that would have been episodic, not continuous travel.”-Council member Naomi Duerr

Despite her concerns, Harger said she had not had any conversations with LifeChurch to discuss them. Council member Devon Reese said he found that “discouraging.” 

“I hope that people can communicate with each other,” Reese said. “We want effective communication on both sides.”

City code allows for a 15 mph zone to be initiated near the church even without the approval of the school due to the existence of a park on the property, according to Mayor Hillary Schieve. She said if it were up to her, she would like to see a 15-mph-zone in every residential neighborhood, especially with children. 

“I know it’s not popular, people are like ‘Don’t say that mayor, it’s not popular,’ but I don’t care, I feel very strongly about it.” 

However, Fuss said that since Rio Wrangler is an arterial roadway they would not support changing the entire street to a reduced speed limit as it would cause traffic congestion.

LifeChurch officials said they met with the school district and city staff prior to the meeting and agreed to provide the necessary sidewalk and crosswalk for pedestrian safety as the WCSD officials had requested. 

Kyle Chisholm, a property planning manager for the school district, said that with those conditions the district was satisfied. 

“We have worked with the applicant and city staff and came up with what we believe is a good and fair resolution to our concerns, which was primarily related to pedestrian safety in the area,” Chisholm said. “Our concerns have largely been addressed with those two conditions.” 

Council member Duerr said she was still concerned about traffic issues and asked for the decision to be continued so LifeChurch could collaborate with RTC and the city. Her motion was not supported. 

“I don’t think it’s ready to move forward,” Duerr said. “I don’t think it’s a good example of planning. It’s very incremental. It’s supposed to be a sanctuary or a meeting place, that would have been episodic, not continuous travel … I don’t think I can support the motion.” 

Council approved the minor use permit for LifeChurch with the addition that they must build a sidewalk along the entire McCauley Ranch Boulevard frontage as well as a crosswalk and rectangular rapid flashing beacons. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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