Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Reno denies rezoning for storage yard at city’s south entrance

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RENO — A rezoning case that spurred mixed reactions from Reno residents finished in a somewhat contradictory way.

During Reno City Council’s Feb. 26 meeting, three of five city council members voted to approve the rezoning of 62 acres at 1491 S. Reno Road from agricultural to commercial for industrial storage. Normally, a simple majority would be enough to approve action items put before the council, but because a supermajority was needed in this case, the motion to approve rezoning failed. This happened because neighbors with a certain percentage of property petitioned against the rezoning.

“Because two of the property owners that opposed it took up most of the area around it, that’s why it had to have a supermajority,” Interim City Secretary Rebekka Roberts said.

In contrast to the council, the Reno Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning about a week prior to the council meeting.

If the rezoning had been approved by council, the industrial refrigeration company MRBraz & Associates would have used the land for outdoor storage of equipment.

Locals lodged multiple complaints against this rezoning case. First, development had begun on the property too quickly and before the proper permissions had been received from the city. During this time, MRBraz & Associates President Marcos Braz said the property was cleaned up, a gravel road was installed as well as a 10,000-gallon water tank for fire emergencies, and equipment was stored there.

The company’s accountant Scott Richardson said work was stopped as soon as code compliance reached out.

“We waited until everything was approved before we got back on the property,” Richardson said during the Feb. 6 public hearing. “Everything (that has) been done on the property has been under the approval of code compliance.”

Despite owning up to the error, some residents seemed to lose trust in the company.

“The change isn't in the best interest of this city if they're not going to be a good steward of our city,” resident Kim White said at the Feb. 26 council meeting.

In his comments to the council at the Feb. 6 public hearing, resident Stuart White argued that allowing the rezoning after the company started work without approval would set a precedent.

“If you approve this, you’re approving any and every developer to just come in here and take over and build, and say, ‘It's there. Now you have to get permission,’” Stuart White said to the council.

Residents also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed storage site, especially the truck traffic it would cause on Reno Road at the State Highway 199 intersection.

“It’s not a Walmart by any means,” Braz said at the Feb. 6 public hearing when asked about traffic impact. He added there would have been a few trucks at most going to and from the site per day.

Richardson negated claims that the project would create waste by saying that Braz “makes sure that everything is clean,” that pallets are recycled, and trees are not removed unless he approves it. He also said the refrigeration equipment stored at the site would be dry as ammonia is not added until later in the process.

Richardson said the plan was to store the equipment at the back of the property, away from Reno Road, and there would also be a natural screen of trees to keep the storage yard out of sight.

“If you're driving by on Reno Road, you will not be able to see anything,” he said. “You'll just see the land. I believe Mr. Braz has more plans on the front to make it even nicer than it is now and really fix it up nice.”

At the Feb. 26 council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Shelli Swift said she toured the company’s facility on SH 199, though it would be different than what was proposed on Reno Road, and described it as orderly and organized. At the property on Reno Road, Swift confirmed there is a natural barrier of trees at the property line, but they were on the neighbors’ side, not on Braz’s property.

“On Mr. Braz's side of the fence, he has no control over that curtain,” she said. “But on the neighbor's side, whoever's around this back part of the property, if they decided to cut down the trees, they would be taking away the natural curtain.”

Reno resident Jesse LaForest also toured one of MRBraz’s facilities and was impressed with the experience and what he saw. Though the initial plan for the Reno Road property was to use it for storage, the company’s leaders spoke about the possibility of expanding into manufacturing in the future.

“I come from a manufacturing background, so I had a lot of concerns about what was going to be done, potentially, in the future,” LaForest said at the Feb. 20 P&Z meeting. “From what I saw, I have no concerns about potentially in the future what could be done even if they went full manufacturing.”

LaForest described the facility as nice and orderly with a nature area for employees to enjoy. During his tour, LaForest said the sound of traffic was louder than the workers, and he was told that if someone could hear the sound of hammers, it meant something was done wrong.

Despite his glowing review, LaForest said he didn’t know if the property on Reno Road would be the right place for one of MRBraz’s facilities or if P&Z members would even want a manufacturing development in town. But he didn’t foresee the project causing negative impacts to the city.

“Is it the best for that property? I can’t tell you that,” LaForest said to the P&Z. “I do know that we don't have the infrastructure to support a whole bunch of houses.”

To Lee Hughes, the answer to the question LaForest posed to P&Z is no. Hughes, who represented part of the ownership group of 738 acres that neighbors the MRBraz property to the north, came out as an ardent opponent of rezoning starting at the first public hearing. He said not all neighbors were contacted about rezoning, and the development would not fit in an area that is an entrance to Reno.

“The applicant may be an ongoing, incredible business, but a glorified outside storage yard at your city limits is not what you see in other cities,” Hughes said Feb 6. “I think the council has a real opportunity to put your stamp on that area of town as you come into it, and I don't think this opportunity for another storage yard is what the council really had envisioned.”

Hughes said he had come to the council months ago with a plan for homes adjacent to parks and trails in that area and was turned down because of the area’s importance as a gateway.

“If parks and trails, winding boulevards, police departments, fire departments, opportunities to build those at your city limits don't work, this storage yard shouldn’t work,” he said.

Hughes also claimed the city wouldn’t get a lot of sales tax from MRBraz’s storage yard, but Richardson pointed out the property would produce more tax revenue for the city if it was rezoned as opposed to the current agricultural zoning.

At the Feb. 20 P&Z meeting, chairperson Kevin Vandenberg said considering how much tax revenue a development will bring in is not necessarily in the commission’s purview.

“Everything he's asking for is well within the ordinances, and that's what we have to worry about,” Vandenberg said. “We're not concerned about sales tax or property tax.”

But not everyone agreed that the rezoning would fit within the city’s ordinances. Several people claimed the city’s rules say commercial C-2 zoning is incompatible with residential zoning, but C-2 zoning is said to be present all along Reno Road butting against residential zoning. Between the P&Z and council meeting, city leaders had differing opinions on whether residential zoning was adjacent to the 62 acres at 1491 S. Reno Road at all. Some said there is a nearby Single Family-1 zoning, but others claimed the surrounding land is all agricultural.

For some of the reasons listed previously in this article — the fact that the property was in the city’s entryway, the low tax revenue impact for a storage facility and the strong opposition from some — Deputy Mayor Pro-Tem Jennifer Vogle voted against the rezoning. Her vote along with council member Tod Siedell’s led to the failed motion.

“Basically, I kind of made a list of pros and cons for the city of Reno, and it seemed like there were more cons than pros,” Vogle said. “I had to choose kind of what was best for the city as a whole and not just one property owner.”