An open letter about the The Vintage At Kings Canyon | Peter Hennessey guest column
November 27, 2016
This open letter is intended for (1) all residents of Carson City in general, (2) the neighbors of this proposed mixed-use development in particular, and (3) specifically to the members of the Carson City Board of Supervisors.
For those who still may not know, The Vintage At Kings Canyon is a controversial proposal to build commercial, rental and residential units on the vacant fields known as the Andersen Ranch between Mountain Street and Ormsby Blvd. The fourth and latest version of the proposal is available on the city's webpage.
For those who don't care (you don't live in this area, you can't stand "those people on the west side," etc.), all I can say is this project is of importance to all of Carson City precisely because it proposes a radical new concept for Carson City: a "community within a community" complete with its own commercial and rental mixed-use core — right in the middle of an existing residential area, totally incompatible with the current master plan and zoning for that area. While the Schulz Ranch, Lompa Ranch and Little Lane projects follow the same pattern of hyperdensity development, even they didn't take the next step of escalating to this Californicated concept of pretending they're somehow separate and detached from the rest of Carson City, needing their own commercial and rental core.
It's precisely because of this radical concept this project has to go through this elaborate process, requiring the formal approval of the Board of Supervisors. The Board isn't in the business of issuing building permits. As the legislative branch of local government, the Board is in the business of setting and defining policy for the city. Accordingly, to get this project done, the Board has to approve a spot-zoning variance both in the Master Plan and in the zoning law. One would hope that in order to approve such a variance, the Board would see the greater issue of the welfare of the city as a whole, rather than the specific merits, if any, of a particular project.
Sadly, such is not the case. As the specific details in the record of getting this project in front of the Board clearly demonstrates, the decision on the appropriateness of this project for the general welfare of the city has been made long before the application reached the Board. City staff saw fit to "work with" the developer to revise the TPUD application so the fourth revision would make it acceptable (to the staff) for presentation to the Board.
Nowhere in the application is there any hint anyone bothered to do the proper marketing studies or write a business plan to show whether this project is
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(1) economically viable,
(2) good for Carson City in terms of economic growth, business diversity, employment for local residents, tax revenues, impact of our infrastructure and services, etc.,
(3) good for the neighborhood, in terms of impact on our traffic, our non-existent crime rate, our property values, our kids being able to walk to school safely, and other quality of life issues.
The staff presented two resolutions to the Planning Commission in order to get them to vote for approval, one on the variances and one on the project. It was quite clear there's no point in voting for the variances if they didn't approve the project, and there was no point in voting for the project if they didn't approve the variances. And in spite of an overwhelming outpouring of public opinion against this project, 162 to 1 in the written comments to the planning commission, a similar ratio of speakers at the public meeting the commissioners still voted to recommend this project to the Board of Supervisors.
Assuming the Board of Supervisors stays true to its legislative and policy-setting job function, one policy-level issue is whether the Master Plan requires "infill" as our policy for development. No, it does NOT; infill is only one of three possible choices, and it's the choice most immediately and most detrimentally affects the character of the community and the quality of life, because it transforms a small, sometimes semi-rural rural town into an urban/suburban mess. The other issue is whether it's appropriate to engage in spot zoning, which is obviously what the planning commission did in this case, and which, I believe based on discussion in the planning commission's public meeting, is specifically prohibited in the municipal code.
In simple terms, the issue for the Board of Supervisors boils down to this. Will they choose to represent special interests who so richly financed their recent re-election campaigns, or will they choose to represent the people, the overwhelming majority of whom are opposed to this Californicated kind of development in Carson City?
The issue for the general public is, will you continue to voice your opposition and come to the meeting of the Board on Thursday and bring your neighbors with you — or will you just give up, roll over and play dead, while once again the establishment rides roughshod over our interests? Ask yourselves, then ask the Board, why can't this project be done in a way that conforms to the character of the existing neighborhood, consistent with current master plan and zoning? What's to be gained and who gains by approving this Californicated departure from the character of this community? We the people want something different, and we are naive enough to expect the Board still represents us.
And come to the meeting on Thursday. This meeting is the only time when the official decision will be made by the actual elected representatives of the people. The previous meeting and vote of the Planning Commission on Sept. 29 was a recommendation only, based on the staff report. THIS is the meeting where the PUBLIC has to show up to see if the elected officials do in fact represent them.
Peter Hennessey is a Carson City resident.