The Planning Commission met on Wednesday, June 8 for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting during which a zone change request submitted by Churchill County was heard and approved. The request concerned two parcels the county purchased on Coleman Road with the intention of reserving the property for multi-unit housing.
County Manager Jim Barbee represented the zone change application for the two parcels. According to county records, the 26-plus acre lot with R-1 zoning was purchased by the county in July 2019. The second lot is an adjacent 5-plus acre lot at 1955 Coleman Road which is zoned E-1 and purchased in October 2020. Per the staff report to the Planning Commission, the request would change the zoning on both parcels to the new R-3 intensive multi-family zoning district as a means of addressing the housing shortage in the county by allowing up to 16 housing units per acre. A draft site plan submitted for discussion only that evening showed a 420-unit apartment complex. The staff report stated, “The development would place a sizable demand on public services and utilities. Nearby public water and sewer services will be extended to the property and currently have the capacity to serve the property.”
The county entered into a purchase and sales agreement with Vertex Fund in May, and the recorded document states the sale of both parcels to Vertex for $600,000 would be subject to the county receiving the R-3 zone change.
Barbee told the Planning Commission that the larger parcel was previously owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the water rights on the property had been moved off. “When the property came up for sale, you brought forward a recommendation to the commission to purchase the property specifically for the use of multi-family housing. The commission concurred, then looked at the additional piece next-door relative to potential capacity for a future roadway that would create greater connectivity north and south in the county that would help not only with traffic for other potential future development, but it would also give us the opportunity to have quicker response times for emergencies. That is the history of how we got into what we have today.”
Barbee told the commission the request was tied directly to the supply and demand for housing and the balance of multi-family housing in the county had already been upside down when he arrived in 2018. When referring to NAS Fallon he said, “There’s the continued expansion with the F-35 platform over the past two years, and an expansion of 1,500 jobs over the next three years. Additionally, we have businesses that are growing in Churchill County and explosive growth at Tahoe Regional Industrial Center all driving housing needs. If you are making a living for your family in this community, you should have to opportunity to reside in the community. This is one of the tasks I have been tasked with when I arrived in this position, to really look at how we can expand out multi-family housing.”
Barbee then introduced Tom Ernst of Vertex, the Denver-based developer the county has entered into an agreement with for this project. “To frame this part of the agreement, we would get the zone change put in place before that agreement would be finalized.” Ernst then told the commission, “We have an apartment development in Fernley and single-family homes development. We want to build very well-built upscale accommodations with an experienced-based environment to meet the housing shortage. We like the small-town feel of Fallon and want to preserve that. But if you don't grow, you won't be a multi-generational town and things have not grown here.” He went on to say that this project would be a large development that would blend into the surrounding neighborhood. The access to the Carson River at the rear of the property would allow for a launch and take-out point for people who swim, canoe or kayak. “By the way, we're not the applicant. We're here as a courtesy to the county who is rezoning the property that we're very excited about. When we come back, we will have a plan that will have connectivity, streets and sewer, and water. Hopefully, we'll be approved for zoning, then we can talk a lot more.”
Two residents expressed concerns over the expected increase in traffic with the development on Coleman Road where traffic is already heavy, and the need for buffering the development from the rest of the neighborhood. Barbee responded to their concerns and traffic study needs saying, “We don't know what we don't know. I think that some of the existing plans that have been approved to the north are still waiting on traffic studies, Sky Ranch, and others, where roadways will be expanded. The county, through the Master Plan, has identified for expansion of urbanization as a method of protecting agriculture in other areas of the community, and there's going to have to be a lot more infrastructure. In this case, some kind of level of widening of Coleman or deceleration lanes will all depend on what that final project will look like. We wouldn't be here if we didn't think this would be achievable.”
In closing, Barbee told the commission, “It comes down to at some point we either have to try to make a plan, try to come up with solutions to the housing deficit that we currently have, or we tell folks 'We love having you work here, but hitch a ride back elsewhere.' It's hard, but this is one that falls within the Master Plan. This is the first modern apartment complex that the community will have in a long time.”
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The County will do a traffic study, but after they approve zoning the property R3. Seems to me like that’s putting the cart before the horse.