January 8, 2022 The Week Ahead
Neon Line Community Meeting details, Arlington Condos & more
I hope everyone’s year is off to a good start! I’ve just realized that today marks exactly one year since I published my very first Barber Brief, on January 8, 2021. I’ve produced 27 issues since then, an average of one every two weeks or so, and I’m delighted to say that today I have more than 1100 subscribers, with some posts reaching 4,000+ views.
So I just want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my updates and analysis, who have sent kind thoughts, questions, and ideas my way, and who have offered your financial support so I can continue to keep this little venture free & accessible to all. I’m especially gratified if my Briefs have inspired you to become more involved with matters of development in our city, adding your important voice to the conversation as we strive to make the community we share ever more appealing, functional, and welcoming to everyone in it.
This Brief previews some important items coming up next week. And first up is the now-virtual community meeting about Jacobs Entertainment’s “Neon Line.”
January 10: Neon Line Meeting now VIRTUAL only
This past week, the City decided to move the January 10 Neon Line District meeting I discussed last week from a hybrid in-person/virtual meeting to entirely virtual. The City’s announcement about that plus info on how to register can be found here. I wrote to Jeff Limpert, the City’s Revitalization Manager, for some clarification of how the meeting will be set up in order to try to preserve as much interactivity and dialogue as possible, and I want to thank him for responding in such detail.
First off, he said, “We have spent a significant amount of time the last three days to make sure we are developing a good public process while keeping the public safe under the circumstances and honoring the initial intent of the meeting,” and listed a few additional considerations they have added:
Working with SoSu to offer a live broadcast as an additional option via YouTube to help reduce technology concerns
Assigning staff members to monitor and manage public feedback in the Zoom and YouTube chat rooms; to assist the facilitator in gathering and grouping chat room questions; to assist chat room monitors in gathering and sharing questions; and to take care of IT issues.
Mr. Limpert then responded to each of my questions (which are in italics):
How many people had registered to attend the meeting in person?
115 in-person as of Friday, Dec. 31 with another 125+ registered for the virtual option.
How exactly will the virtual meeting be structured? Will it be in "webinar" form so only the representatives from the City and/or Jacobs can be seen, and everyone else is just a spectator kept out of public view? Or will everyone be able to see who the other "attendees" are?
The meeting will be a webinar and has been structured to allow and ensure the following:
Panelists will be presenting virtually from various locations and will be able to present visuals while they speak.
Community members will all be registered as participants and will be able to raise hands and ask questions.
They will be able to ask questions and follow-up questions just as we did in [the] redistricting [process].
Community members will be seen while they are asking questions by everyone watching and the panelists.
Will the City staff, any elected officials in attendance, and representatives of Jacobs Entertainment actually be in the same room together or will everyone be participating separately from their own remote locations?
How will questions that haven't been submitted in advance be handled? Will residents be able to ask questions themselves in their own voices, live, after "raising a hand" or will their questions have to be written and filtered through a staff member in writing?
Multiple ways to ask questions and we have multiple staff members assigned to monitor each method to ensure we are gathering and sharing with the facilitator.
Raise hand and ask questions, own voice, live.
Enter questions into the Zoom chat room that will be monitored by staff and relayed to the facilitator.
Enter questions into the YouTube chat room that will be monitored by staff and relayed to the facilitator (working with SoSu to secure a live broadcast).
Questions submitted early will also be addressed by the facilitator.
Will residents be able to "follow up" on a question after it has been answered? That seems to be the only way that a virtual meeting could produce the desired kind of dialogue that an in-person meeting promised. And if so, how will that work? Will a staff person go back to the initial questioner and ask if they are satisfied with the answer or if they want to follow up?
This will be handled like [the] redistricting [meetings]. The community member will ask their question, the facilitator will direct it to the right person to respond, and the community member will have an opportunity to ask for clarification or follow-up.
Will the City be able to show a detailed map that will allow them to focus in on specific sections of this area, in case people want to talk about specific parcels or buildings? One of the main appeals of an in-person meeting was that I presume there would have been large maps physically on display so people could point to specific locations they're concerned about.
Any maps would have been a part of the staff presentation and there was no plan to provide large, blown-up options. Staff will be able to show the presentation and any slide on the screen that will help facilitate better questioning and direction as needed.
If any residents intended to bring in any visual materials to show, whether photographs or maps or something else, would there still be some way to do that?
We are confirming that this can be accommodated by allowing community members to share their screens while asking a question and whether it is appropriate to do so. We will discuss with IT and staff and come up with a plan.
So that’s the scoop on how that meeting will be run. I hope to see/hear you there.
Affordable or workforce housing on Jacobs land?
On a related note, in a Reno Gazette-Journal article posted online yesterday (January 7) (after This is Reno teased some kind of imminent announcement), Jeff Jacobs was given a public platform for his musings on how workforce and/or affordable housing might possibly be built on some of his land. Reporter Jason Hidalgo only quotes Mr. Jacobs and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, “who Jacobs consulted with while crafting his proposal,” so there’s clearly some coordinated PR/political strategizing at play here, but housing sounds good, so let’s take a quick look.
Although the online headline reads, “Jacobs proposing 1,000 downtown Reno workforce housing units,” Jacobs is not proposing to build any housing. What he’s stating is that he might offer (and possibly “under the right scenario” donate) a parcel of land for someone to construct housing on. The parcel in question is just south of the train tracks between Washington and Ralston Streets; Jacobs purchased it last September for $6,275,000 with the intent of using it for parking, ostensibly for the nearby event space he’s named the “Glow Plaza.” But I’m not sure where he’s getting $15 million as the land’s value, as Anjeanette Damon questioned on Twitter yesterday.
Jacobs clearly wants to continue to use the land for parking, and in his hypothetical scenario, someone else would finance the construction of 850 affordable or workforce housing units on the parcel (he says reaching 1,000 units would require the City to include additional land) and this hypothetical project would include 1800 public parking spaces in addition to whatever parking is needed for its residents, for a total of 2,650 parking spaces. (Just for the sake of comparison, UNR’s new seven-story parking garage currently under construction in the Gateway will include 813 parking spaces and the Peppermill’s six-story parking structure has 1600 spaces.)
In addition to wanting the City of Reno to put some “skin in the game” in the form of additional land or funding, he’s also proposing that RTC Washoe and the Reno Housing Authority be involved. Overall, this seems to me to be something more appropriately pitched and vetted in a meeting with one or more of those public entities to see if it’s remotely possible or even desirable before going to the media, but it successfully got the words “workforce housing” and “Jacobs” in a headline prior to Monday’s public meeting on the Neon Line, which, let’s be honest, was likely the goal.
So in sum: a conceptual idea? Yes. A plan, proposal, or commitment? No. I’ll be curious to hear what those in the affordable/workforce housing realm make of it.
January 11: Ward 1 & Ward 5 NAB meetings
The Neighborhood Advisory Boards (NABs) for Wards 1 and 5 both meet (separately, of course) on Tuesday, January 11 at 5:30 pm, and since they both include items I’ve discussed, I want to highlight a few of them. (That’s also, coincidentally, the same time I’ll be giving a free virtual talk about the Lear Theater, but if you’re heading to a NAB meeting instead, I understand!)
First, the Ward 1 agenda, available here, includes (it’s item B.3.1) a presentation about the 63-unit Arlington Condos, the one project that Jacobs Entertainment committed in its Development Agreement with the City of Reno to construct from the ground up. In contrast with most commercial or residential projects that meet area zoning requirements, condos require review by the Planning Commission to approve their “tentative maps” (since they’re dividing larger parcels into individual sellable units). The map and renderings were submitted to the City last fall, so I don’t know whether plans have changed, but this is the submitted rendering of the Arlington Condos building planned for the corner of West 2nd Street and Arlington Avenue.
[NOTE: The application is not included in the agenda packet; you can access it by clicking the link here and on the drop-down menu for “Record Info,” click on “Attachments.” The full application package can then be downloaded as a PDF.]
The building would be six stories high, with internal parking, and street-level storefronts designated for a corner coffee shop and two retail spaces. According to the map, the project’s boundaries (although not the building) include the Nelson Building and adjacent Lane Machine Shop building, which are both to be demolished, although there are no immediate plans to build anything in their place. The application doesn’t indicate the plans for the Gibson Apartments at 441 West 2nd Street, on the same block, but I’m hoping there are no plans to demolish it—it’s a lovely, affordable, and occupied historic brick building—just the kind of asset we should aspire to retain.
Also on the Ward 1 agenda (item B.3.2) is the Jacobs Glow Plaza and Festival Area, which I mentioned last time. You can view that full application by clicking on this link and following the same instructions as above. Other items relate to rezoning the vacant lot to the southeast of Reno High to increase infill options there, and a big new infill residential project, Riverpoint at Idlewild, on that vacant lot on the north side of Idlewild Drive just west of Foster Drive (link to that application here).
The agenda for the Ward 5 NAB meeting the same night can be found here. Again, the agenda packet doesn’t include the full applications for any of the developments to be discussed, so you need to be able to locate the records on the public website. Items to be discussed include the abandonment of an alley behind Reno Vulcanizing (just south of East 6th Street between Virginia and Center, application here), and a permit to allow the construction of 50 “tiny home” shelters, restrooms, and other features at the Washoe County Safe Camp at the Nevada CARES Campus (application link here).
January 12: Reno City Council Meeting
City Council comes back on January 12, and you can view the webpage with embedded links to the agenda and all the staff reports here. Info on how to register for and view the meeting virtually and submit public comment is on the agenda here.
I definitely encourage you, as always, to scan through the entire agenda for items of interest, but I’ll only be writing briefly about a pair of them today: the street and alley abandonments being requested by Jacobs Entertainment under items C. 1 and C. 2.
C. 1 and C. 2: Street and Alley Abandonment Requests
These two items involve two separate requests from Jacobs Entertainment. Item C.1 (link here) relates in part to the Arlington Condos project, described above, although that project as designed doesn’t include the full extents of the public rights-of-way (ROW) being requested for abandonment. Church Lane and Stevenson Street (which are in the request) currently provide access to several buildings slated for demolition, but easements would retain access to them as long as needed.
Item C.2 (link here) involves an L-shaped alley just to the north, between West 4th and West 5th Streets, and Ralston and Nevada Streets, and is not connected to a development project at all. Rather, as the staff report claims, because Jacobs owns or has options to buy most of the surrounding parcels, “the abandonment request facilitates redevelopment and revitalization of a downtown city block.”
Requests for abandonments of public rights-of-way come along all the time, and according to the procedure outlined in the City’s development code (18.08.707), they are only reviewed by staff and then City Council, and the only finding Council has to make is that “the public will not be materially injured by the proposed abandonment.”
Most commonly, they are requested to enable the construction of a specific project that has been designed to straddle an entire city block, necessitating the abandonment of an alley that currently cuts through the middle of it. In other, rarer cases, the same might be requested of a portion of a public street. Those types of applications are pretty straightforward, since they involve projects that can be clearly evaluated to determine whether the abandonment is needed and whether it is likely to cause any material (not to be confused with physical!) injury to anyone.
The problem I see is when an abandonment is requested in advance of any specific project the applicant is bringing forward, solely to facilitate the sale of adjacent properties in combination with the right-of-way, to be potentially developed in the future by someone else. But the inability to review an actual project would seem, to me, to render it impossible for the City to determine with any degree of certainty that the public "will not be materially injured by the proposed abandonment” because the end result is a complete unknown. A vacant parcel may not seem injurious, but left unsold, empty, and blighted, it certainly can be, and without knowing what might be built there in the future, who can say?
My other concern has to do with equity in development. Approving abandonments that are requested solely to help a private property owner assemble parcels for sale may potentially help to facilitate development, but only a certain type of development. And it makes the City a party to the applicant’s pre-selection of a desired category of buyer. Much smaller-scale, incremental types of infill development depend upon the existence of public alleys for ease of access for deliveries, trash removal, and more. Furthermore, individual, smaller parcels can be purchased by buyers who could never afford to purchase an entire city block.
In that respect, prematurely abandoning streets and alleys to facilitate the assemblage of private property for sale actually limits the potential uses of the blocks in question, and certainly limits the range of potential buyers. And that just doesn’t seem like something the City should do, solely because a private property owner wants to sell to larger developers intent on large-scale development. That’s how I see it, anyway.
BRIEF TIP: Ward redistricting and the City’s e-newsletters
In its December 1 meeting, the City completed its redistricting process, which revised the boundaries of the five city wards, effective January 1, 2022. You can view the new ward maps here. It’s a good time to double-check which ward you live in, and then sign up for the City’s ward-specific e-newsletters here, which can keep you informed of upcoming Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) meetings and other issues.
While you’re on that page, I highly recommend also signing up for the “Development Projects” newsletter, which gives you advance notice of development applications that have been submitted and when they are scheduled to be reviewed at upcoming NAB, Planning Commission, and City Council meetings. You can view an example of the December 30 “Development Projects” newsletter here and you’ll note that many of the projects I mentioned above are covered in it. These have become increasingly more public-friendly, and I really commend the Development Services staff for that. They even provide a way to submit public comments on projects directly from the newsletter, to be included when they come in front of our public bodies for review.
That’s it for my one-year Brief-iversary! As always, you can view my previous e-newsletters, with more context, analysis & tips, on my Substack site and follow the Brief on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you feel inspired to contribute to my efforts, I have a Venmo account at @Dr-Alicia-Barber and would be grateful for your support (I’ll be adding more methods soon). Thanks for reading, and have a great week!