Lessons Learned: Abandonments
What is Happening to Washington Street
A lot of folks are caught surprised this week about the private appropriation of the southern terminus of Washington Street to be utilized as land for development. Washington Street is a grand old thoroughfare that dead ends into Rancho San Rafael Park at the north, skirts by Whittaker Park before crossing the freeway, traverses west downtown and then terminates at the Truckee River.
A long stalled and controversial development project from three business cycles ago gave the property owner of the commercial center just west (that is home to the Dorinda’s Chocolates, Hub Coffee Roasters, and Beaujolais Bistro) the street’s final southern block. The plan is to incorporate the Washington Street land into a development that will encompass the parking lot of the commercial center, and edge up to the quaint triangular shaped Lundsford Park to the east.
When I first came on to the City Council in 2012, I focused on seeing if the portion of abandoned Mill Street between Lake Street and Center Street could be returned to the City. Reasons for this were: 1) the closure majorly messed up downtown circulation; and 2) it was given away to the developer of the now Renaissance Hotel (at the time, the Sienna Hotel and originally the long shuttered Holiday) as it was argued, as necessary for the redevelopment of the property. In reciprocity, there would be investment in a parking structure over the Mill Street land that never got built. Well, that performance measure was never made concrete and today that portion of Mill Street sits fenced in as a driveway entrance to the Renaissance. I remain hugely bummed.
I did not look much into the Washington Street abandonment back then, because I understood it to be a done deal. As a refresher, here is a link from local blog Downtown Makeover who was somewhat excited about the project at the time:
Below are the minutes from the meeting when a FORMER City Council approved the project with the street abandonment over the Planning Commission’s objections. Please note: no member of the current Reno City Council participated in this approval. It is like the three-generation train trench debt, a legacy issue.
Minutes from Reno City Council 1-11-2006
Staff Report: Request for a: (1) tentative map to create 11 residential and 2 commercial condominium units; (2) special use permit to create angled parking along the east and west sides of Washington Street and the south side of Jones Street adjacent to the project site, and to allow for a modification to the front building setbacks; and (3) abandonment of +12,904 square feet of public right-of way along Washington Street and Jones Street in order to allow for on-street angled parking; and (4) a variance to reduce the number of required onsite parking spaces and to allow a surface parking lot within the first block of the TRD district on a ±0.33 acre project site located on the west side of Washington Street at the northwest corner of the intersection of Washington Street and Riverside Drive within the TRD (Truckee River Corridor) zoning district. Case No. LDC06-00116 (Ponte Vecchio). [Ward 1]
Recommendation: The Planning Commission recommends denial of the requested tentative map, special use permit, variance, and abandonment.
THE APPLICANT’S REPRESENTATIVE APPEALED THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION.
The Mayor asked if proper notice was given.
City Clerk Jones stated that proper notice was given and one letter of concern was received from Sam Gettle; a letter in opposition was received from Keegan Low of the Law Firm of Robinson, Belaustegui, Sharp & Low; a letter in opposition was received from Jack Matley; and a letter in opposition was received from Tiffany Matley.
Mayor Cashell opened the public hearing and asked if anyone wished to speak.
Mary Winston, 629 Jones Street, discussed the shortage of public parking in the area.
Councilperson Gustin and Ms. Winston discussed possible solutions to the parking issue.
Dick Benoit, 629 Jones Street, discussed residential parking issues.
Monique Moultrie, 718 Jones Street, presented a Public Comment Form in support of the project, but did not wish to speak.
Vikki Corrigan, 641 Jones Street, presented a Public Comment Form in support of the project, but did not wish to speak.
Cathy Brandhorst, 752B Forest Street, discussed several issues.
Tom Belaustegui, one of the owners of the building housing the Law Firm of Robinson, Belaustegui, Sharp & Low at 71 Washington Street, discussed their objections to the condominium project.
Ms. Yaley presented an overview of the project and the appeal of the Planning Commission recommendation.
Mike Railey, Jeff Codega Planning & Design, presented an overview of the project proposal, and discussed changes that have been made to the project in response to residents’ concerns, including additional parking along Jones Street. He said that conditions that the applicant is willing to include are the following: (1) prior to the issuance of building permits, the applicant shall be required to enter into an agreement with the City to provide ongoing maintenance of Lundsford Park and associated improvements, along with the parking improvements and including utilities on the City-owned portion of the project area; (2) the applicant shall be required to provide the opportunity for the relocation of the two existing on-site homes to the satisfaction of the Community Development Department; (3) the applicant shall provide for “residential parking permit only” designations, including signs and associated permit fees, for the residents along Jones Street and adjacent to Lundsford Park; and (4) all street trees shown on the conceptual site plan shall be a minimum four-inch caliper at the time of planting. He also said that the third condition listed regarding parking may require rewording after consultation with the Public Works Department.
Councilperson Gustin said that the Ward One Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) supports the project, and asked for details regarding the abandonment.
Mr. Railey said that the area of abandonment is approximately 7,200 square feet, and that the applicant will be spending $300,000 on improvements to Lundsford Park.
Councilperson Gustin and Mr. Railey discussed the number of parking spaces available on Washington and Jones Streets before and after the project.
Councilperson Gustin disclosed that he met with Jeff Codega of Jeff Codega Planning & Design, and with Mike Mardian, developer of the project, at the site.
Councilperson Gustin and Mr. Railey discussed the possibility of creating diagonal parking on both sides of Jones Street; the Lundsford park maintenance agreement that includes the utilities; meetings the applicant’s representatives have held with Parks Recreation and Community Services staff; the possibility of
creating a landscape district; the willingness of the applicant to pay for residential parking permit fees and signage for McKinley parking; and relocating two historic structures in the project area.
Chuck Kelley, project architect, discussed the project’s proposed indoor and outdoor dining facilities.
Mike Mardian, project developer, discussed the hours of operation of the dining facilities, and said that they will probably only serve lunch and dinner.
Councilperson Gustin asked what the proposed price point is for the 11 units.
Mr. Railey said that the price point will start in the $400,000’s and go upwards of $1 million for the larger units.
Councilperson Gustin asked for confirmation that the entire street is not being abandoned, only the portion needed for additional parking.
Mr. Railey confirmed that the street area shown in the original application is what will be abandoned; i.e., the 7,200 square foot strip along Jones Street and on Washington Street.
Mayor Cashell asked if the two buildings that are to be relocated by the applicant will be reconstructed and not simply stored at another location indefinitely.
Mr. Railey said that the houses will be stored at a location to be leased by the applicant, if necessary, while a permanent site for them can be identified.
Mr. Mardian discussed his efforts to acquire property for the structures, and his intention to move them temporarily, if necessary, so that they can be preserved. He reiterated his intention to move the structures to a permanent location and restore them.
Mayor Cashell and Mr. Mardian discussed imposing a time limit on finding a permanent location for the two houses, and an 11:00 p.m. closing time for the dining facilities.
Mr. Mardian said that music will not be provided at the outdoor dining facilities.
Councilperson Sferrazza asked if retail space will also be included on the first floor of the building.
Mr. Railey said that 3,700 square feet of boutique-type retail space, and 2,300 square feet of restaurant space will be included in the project.
Councilperson Aiazzi asked for a definition of “permanent open lot/surface lot.”
Ms. Yaley and Councilperson Aiazzi discussed the terms “permanent open lot/surface lot,” staff’s rationale for using the terms, and variance requirements.
Mr. Belaustegui discussed problems associated with cars backing out of diagonal parking spaces into the traffic lane.
Councilperson Aiazzi and Mr. Belaustegui discussed the pros and cons of diagonal parking in the Reno area.
Councilperson Aiazzi said that the Monday through Saturday, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. proposed hours of construction, restrictions on the idling of trucks and other vehicles before 7:00 a.m., and the applicant’s $300,000 contribution to Lundsford Park need to be included in today’s deliberations.
Mayor Cashell and Councilperson Aiazzi discussed limiting construction hours to between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on weekdays.
Councilperson Hascheff said that Code requires 64 parking spaces for this project, and that the applicant is short 13 spaces.
Councilperson Hascheff and Ms. Yaley discussed the spacing of diagonal parking places.
Councilperson Hascheff and Cheryl Ryan, Community Development Senior Planner, discussed ways in which diagonal parking can affect traffic flows.
Chris Robinson, Community Development Engineer, discussed how diagonal parking will affect traffic on Jones and Washington Streets.
Councilperson Hascheff and Mr. Robinson discussed details of the diagonal parking spacing, parking demand issues, and alternatives for providing parking on nearby streets by creating additional diagonal parking spaces.
Councilperson Hascheff asked if staff will be comfortable with the tentative map and the Special Use Permit (SUP) if the findings on the variance can be made for the parking.
Ms. Yaley said that staff will be comfortable with the tentative map and the SUP if the findings on the variance can be made for the parking.
Councilperson Hascheff disclosed that he met with Mr. Mardian and Mr. Codega, and that he has an office located at 1029 Riverside.
Councilperson Gustin stated that City Code prohibits the operation of dining facilities after 11:00 p.m., and that he is comfortable with the diagonal parking.
He said that this project is a better option than that proposed by the Regional Center Plan that is currently being drafted for consideration.
Councilpersons Aiazzi and Dortch discussed the variance to allow a surface parking lot, the option of providing an easement rather than abandoning portions of the streets, the creation of an historic district near the University of Nevada Reno, and the need to define the term “surface lot parking.”
Councilperson Gustin discussed the Regional Center Plan currently being developed, and agreed that a definition of “surface lot parking” needs to be determined.
Councilperson Sferrazza praised the developer’s mini-storage project on Vassar Street, and said that she recently received a report stating that more retail businesses are needed along the Truckee River.
It was moved by Councilperson Gustin, seconded by Councilperson Aiazzi to overrule the recommendation of the Planning Commission for denial, make the findings as stated, and approve the project with the additional conditions that: (1) the applicant will create a landscape district; (2) the applicant will provide $300,000 for Lundsford Park improvements; (3) the applicant will provide for “residential parking permit only” designations, including signs and associated permit fees, for the residents along Jones Street and adjacent to Lundsford Park; (4) hours and days of construction, as well as restrictions on the idling of trucks, will be consistent with restrictions placed on the previous Jones Street project; (5) the applicant will provide signage to direct traffic to the McKinley parking area; (6) no outdoor music will be permitted at the project’s outdoor facilities; (7) the applicant will find a new permanent location for the two on-site homes within one year of their removal from the project site; and (8) on-site dining facilities will be required to close at 11:00 p.m.
The project as I understand now conceptualized, has pivoted from the Italianesque theme to who knows what. Nonetheless, the abandonment is firm. We will watch this construction come to fruition. I understand, and share hard feelings about this (particularly as there was apparently, some needless tree death this week).
As I was telling someone last week, street abandonments are seemingly simple matters but are in reality, complex and fraught with unintended consequences. I’ve learned this the hard way in a past life as Planning Director for Silver City, New Mexico and have carried lessons learned with me for years.
For these reasons, I’ve opposed abandonments like Mr. Jacobs’ in west downtown and for the University of Nevada, Reno that facilitated the demolition of the last intact block of our Victorian era history. In both examples, land sits as idle dirt today.
I’ve also advocated with not a lot of agreement from development friendly Reno staff:
- For state law changes to abandonment determinations as the law greatly favors abandonment;
- Master Plan determination of strict analysis related to abandonment request;
- That abandonment requests go to the Planning Commission (the response of the former City Council that overturned the Planning Commission on Washington Street was to yank that authority from the Commission, and just retain it with the Council) a critical check in the process that was not folded into our recent zoning code update; and
- Clawback regulations for dustbin projects like Ponte Vecchio (clock is ticking for Jacobs and the UNR notions).
Hopefully, the Washington Street remembrance will lead to a little bit of reckoning on how carelessly we’ve been with abandonments. Today, infill commercial development is strong so this privatization of Washington Street raises the question of when, why and who should get a public resource to “facilitate” their development?
Also, why should the public lose a beautiful continuous connection to the river and all of the other uses that come with a street? Like the trees, like the historical layout of the grid that we’ve inherited, like a shady sidewalk?
Jenny Brekhus is the Ward 1 Reno, NV, City Council Member. When opinions and views expressed, without other attribution, they are those of Jenny Brekhus and do not reflect official views or positions of the City of Reno or the Reno City Council unless otherwise noted. This publication and any response it generates communicated through any channel, may be subject to disclosure under Nevada Public Records Act if it substantively refers to City of Reno business.