March 24, 2021 Reno City Council Meeting Preview
Discussion of selling the City’s Record Street CAC campus, and Verdi-area development
The upcoming (virtual) Reno City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 24th includes a few items of development-related interest. You can view the entire agenda and all supporting materials via the link here and I’m going to delve into just two, related to the potential sale of the City’s Community Assistance Center on Record Street and a proposed development near Verdi called the Santerra Quilici Properties.
D.4.1 Homeless Services and Nevada Cares Campus
First, under D.4 are a range of items related to homeless services and the future Nevada Cares Campus for the region’s unhoused population, currently under construction at and around the former Governor’s Bowl site on East 4th Street, just southwest of the intersection of I-80 and I-580. You can read all about its partial financing via CARES Act funds from the Reno Gazette-Journal here and watch this City-produced video about how the construction and plans are proceeding.
Item D.4.3, explained at the link here, contemplates revising numerous city ordinances related to providing meals for the homeless, regulations about camping on public property, and other issues. These are very important matters and are discussed by others elsewhere including This is Reno, here, the Reno News & Review, here, and Our Town Reno, here.
But as a matter of urban development it’s item D.4.1 that really caught my eye, introducing the “possible relocation of services from the Community Assistance Center,” which, the staff report (found here) reveals actually means this: selling the CAC on Record Street for an estimated $7 million to help fund and move those services to the new Nevada Cares Campus. The sale of the CAC, which requires City Council approval, is described not only as a revenue generator for the campus, but “a redevelopment opportunity for the Fourth Street corridor and downtown.”
The prospect of selling the CAC, which was only constructed about 15 years ago, may cause a bit of whiplash for anyone who followed the long and tumultuous process that led to the City’s decision to build it on Record Street in the first place. That site was deliberately chosen for a number of reasons, both practical and political, which I think is important context for the current discussion.
The overarching goal back then was to consolidate services for the homeless in a single area, just as the Nevada Cares Campus aspires to do now with an expanded capacity and (eventually) more types of lodging. Then, as now, it was a move motivated by two parallel impulses: to enable the people who need those services to access them more easily (the humanitarian angle); and to move those services out of the central downtown area (the business/revitalization angle).
Those two impulses, of course, can be at odds depending on how far out of downtown the consolidated site is planned to be. When finalized in 2004, the selection of Record Street appeased both humanitarian and business interests. It was out of downtown, but not too far out.
For the downtown business interests, Record Street was a marked improvement from the previous state of affairs. For years, two of the sites most heavily patronized by Reno’s neediest populations were the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission at 145 West Third Street, and St. Vincent’s Dining Room a few blocks west, at 505 West Third. This was before the construction of the railroad trench, and the two buildings bordered the north side of the railroad tracks—always a pedestrian danger—with the vacant Kings Inn between them.
The downtown casinos and other business interests didn’t want these services and their patrons so close to them, and in 1995, City Council approved a plan and set aside funds to locate services for the homeless on a site 1.5 miles east of the Gospel Mission—right beside the railroad tracks on Sage Street (a site that in 2019 became the micro-apartment dormitory project called the Village on Sage Street and is—literally—directly across East 4th Street from where the Nevada Cares Campus is being constructed today).
As a heavy industrial site heavily trafficked by large dump trucks and cement trucks, Sage Street wasn’t the perfect location for homeless services, but it was available and outside of downtown, as the business interests wanted. However, in 1995, a newly elected City Council scuttled the whole idea, and nothing happened for seven years.
The Sage Street plan regained momentum in 2002, and the City Council (including newly-elected Mayor Bob Cashell) approved plans to construct a men’s drop-in shelter and dining room there. The Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless (RAAH) pledged to build a drop-in center for women and families along with office space for service providers, and the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission would operate the shelter, creating a full campus of services.
There was only one problem: the operators of St. Vincent’s Dining Room—Catholic Community Services—didn’t want to move their dining services all the way out to Sage Street, expressing understandable concern that the location would be too far too distant from the populations they served.
This presented a problem for the downtown business interests. If St. Vincent’s Dining Room remained on Third Street, then even if the other services moved east, the homeless population would be walking back and forth through the heart of downtown all day long.
The City of Reno, in the meantime, was feeling additional pressure to move the dining room out of downtown due to a lawsuit brought by the casinos over the ownership of Reno’s original streets and the City’s longstanding practice of charging leases for the air above them (it’s a long story). In the agreement to settle that long legal battle, the City had promised the downtown casinos that it would move the “soup kitchens” out.
So in October of 2003, Mayor Bob Cashell came up with a new idea: centering the new homeless campus not on Sage Street, but on Record Street, a full mile closer to downtown. The city was acquiring some land through the downtown railroad trench project (ReTRAC), and Mayor Cashell noted that a site on Record Street (former home to R Supply) would be much more convenient for the community’s neediest, making Catholic Community Services more amenable to moving its dining room nearby, since the diocese already operated St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop at nearby 500 East 4th Street, with a food pantry right next door.
That sudden change didn’t sit well with many of the property and business owners along East 4th Street, which was then in the early stages of revitalization. United as the Reno-Sparks Business Corridor Association (RSBCA), many of them had been trying to prevent the City from building the shelter along the street for years. You can learn more about those efforts from Gaye Canepa, who I interviewed in 2011.
There was another obstacle to the proposed Record Street location: it wasn’t zoned properly for a homeless shelter. In January of 2004, a request for the required zone change was brought in front of the Planning Commission, who voted 4-3 to deny it, citing the incompatibility of a homeless shelter with the area, its architecture, and its revitalization plans.
Two different entities teamed up to appeal the denial—the Downtown Improvement Association (DIA), on behalf of downtown businesses, and the Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless (RAAH), advocating for consolidation and proximity of services. To the DIA, the Record Street site wasn’t as far away as they’d like, but moving St. Vincent’s Dining Room off Third Street would solve their immediate problem.
Their combined efforts were successful, and in February of 2004, City Council reversed the Planning Commission’s decision and approved the zone change, paving the way for construction of the Record Street facility. The City made good on their promise to the downtown business interests by facilitating the construction of brand new buildings for the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission and St. Vincent’s Dining Room (in exchange for their downtown property) on Record Street and adjacent Valley Road, respectively, with both opening in November 2005 (for more on St. Vincent’s Dining Room, read an interview with its longtime director, Ray Trevino, here).
The two other City-built facilities, a Men’s Shelter (315 Record Street) and a Family Shelter and Community Resources Building (335 Record Street), opened in stages from 2005 to 2008 (which you can read about in my interview with former City of Reno Homeless Coordinator Krista Lee, here). That also enabled the closure of a men’s shelter formerly located on Morrill Street. The total cost of the campus has been estimated at $26 million (nearly $20 million of which was expended to construct the two buildings the City currently owns).
Since then, the revitalization of East 4th Street has accelerated, and in the process the district has gained a great deal more value in the eyes of many of the same downtown business and city leaders who once considered it sufficiently distant. Since the opening of the City’s CAC, the immediate vicinity has become home to the renovated Louis’ Basque Corner (with no more rented hotel rooms since 2011); the Morris Burner Hotel (2013); The Depot (2014), the Jesse Hotel and Bar (2019), Record Street Brewing and The Alpine (2020), and many others.
So here we are. Today, in an effort to consolidate and expand homeless services for the region, the City is contemplating selling the CAC on Record Street and moving its shelters and services once more to a much larger location a mile away, across the street from the very site that it rejected 17 years ago. So far as I can tell, the other privately-run services that the City constructed new buildings for on Record and Valley aren’t going anywhere, meaning the community members those services assist would now face a two-mile round-trip walk (or bus ride?) between the facilities at the existing campus and the new Nevada Cares Campus, should they want or need to access both. It also means that the “redevelopment opportunity” presented by the CAC’s sale would be a site with practically new purpose-built homeless services buildings located between the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission and the railroad tracks, and across another set of tracks from the St. Vincent’s Dining Room.
I’m not advocating here one way or another, but I do hope some of these issues will be openly discussed on Wednesday. The location of homeless services and their distance from both the city center and each other has always been the key to their accessibility and ultimate use, and the proper balance between the practical and the political, while a delicate subject, is critical to thoroughly and openly evaluate.
As always, if you have any questions or comments for City Council, email or record them, as instructed at the top of the agenda, here, ideally by 4pm on Tuesday, March 23rd.
I.1. Santerra Quilici Properties
This item is coming in front of City Council because two different entities are appealing decisions by the Reno Planning Commission about a proposed Toll Brothers development near Verdi. The full description, maps, and associated materials can be accessed here with the full application (LDC21-00017) on the Accela site here, but an easier way to grasp the project is to watch the video of the developer and staff presentations to the Planning Commission about it on December 16, 2020 by clicking on Item 4.6 here.
The site is a large one, approximately 1,165 acres just southwest of Boomtown and east of Gold Ranch, nestled inside the curve where Interstate 80 veers south. This current proposal would include 266 multi-family units; 1,225 single-family residential units (houses); an elementary school site; an 18-acre regional park site; a five-acre community park site, and ten acres for neighborhood commercial development.
On December 16th, the Planning Commission recommended approval of a Master Plan and zoning map amendment for the site (the zoning maps codify Master Plan changes in the city’s land development code). Those two recommendations are being appealed by Verdi property owner Adrian Argyris. (Remember, Master Plan and zoning map amendments always require City Council approval.)
At the same December meeting, the Planning Commission voted to deny the tentative map and associated special use permits submitted by the developer. Those denials are being appealed by the developer’s attorney, Michael Pagni. Both appeals will be considered by City Council on Wednesday.
So what’s this all about? This is another project related to a large amount of land annexed to the City of Reno in 2001. A brief explanation of its history can be found in the City staff report here and on the website of Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning here. The Mortensen-Garson Settlement Agreement that once served as the governing plan for this property expired in 2012 and its overlay district has since been adopted into City policy and code. That 2001 annexation also includes the Stan Lucas development on the north side of I-80, which both Planning Commission and City Council have denied.
The requests for Master Plan changes and zoning map amendments for the Santerra Quilici Properties are intended to more specifically define the land uses permitted for various portions of the property. Those are specific in terms of overall density of the development and allowable uses (residential, multi-family, commercial, etc.) but don’t indicate precisely where those components would be built.
A tentative map does just that, providing a sense of what would be built where. And the special use permits being requested are required for construction of what is shown on that map, regarding technical aspects of hillside development like grading, placement of utilities, and treatment of drainageways.
You can read a summary of the Planning Commission’s deliberations and reasoning in the staff report, view the criteria that both Planning Commission and City Council must consider when rendering their decisions, and access links to all relevant materials here.
If you have any questions or comments for City Council, email or record them, as instructed at the top of the agenda, here, ideally by 4pm on Tuesday, March 23rd. And for this item, be sure to read the language of the item carefully and clarify which appeal(s) you are supporting or opposing, and why.
That’s long enough for today, so I’ll be back soon with more tips and updates. As always, you can view my previous newsletters, with more context, analysis, and tips, on my Substack site, https://thebarberbrief.substack.com/. If you’re not yet a subscriber, click the button below to sign up for free. And have a great week!