State and Masons work to put land deal back together

The state Lands Division, city officials and the Masonic Lodge are working to put back together a land deal that was stymied by the Legislative Interim Finance Committee.

The plan would combine 320 prime development acres owned by the state just above Western Nevada Community College with 80 acres owned by the Masons.

The deal was stalled when Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked why the state should agree to sell its property in a deal that appears to benefit only the Masons.

The deal drew more fire from Raggio and other members of the committee after Shelly Aldean, representing the Masons, said that group would probably drop out of the deal if the committee didn't approve it immediately. She said the group is trying to stay ahead of possible anti-growth opposition.

"What I'm saying is there's an anti-growth sentiment that's developing in Carson City that may not be prevalent in Las Vegas, but we have already dealt with that to a certain extent in connection with the proposed development of property including the state's property in the Ash Canyon area," she said.

Her comments prompted Raggio to ask whether she and the city were somehow threatening the state. He then pointed out that it's not the state's job to help them finish the deal before opponents find out about it.

Dick Murray of the Masons, City Community Development Director Walt Sullivan and Lands Administrator Pam Wilcox say they are trying to satisfy Raggio's concerns because the deal could help all parties involved.

The plan is to combine the 80 acres owned by the Masons with the state's 320-acre rectangle. Most of the 80-acre parcel would then be used as open space, allowing greater density on the state land and increasing its value.

That allows the city to plan the whole area, and it increases the value of the property.

Murray admits the Masons' land, while it is classified as developable in the city's master plan, would be difficult to build many homes on and wouldn't generate nearly as much money as they would like to get. In fact, he said the Masons had it on the market three years ago and no one was willing to pay what they wanted.

"We weren't trying to hide anything from anyone," said Murray. "We didn't think we, the Masons, could spend the money on something that couldn't fly, so we wanted state approval before we spend it."

He said the Masons would supply appraisals and engineering costs totaling about $20,000. The state supplies some planning assistance but doesn't have the money for those other costs.

But Raggio's question was what does the state get out of the deal. The answer, according to both Sullivan and Wilcox, is that the state parcel is not classified as developable in the Carson City master plan even though it is nearly surrounded by land that is developable, including the Masons' property.

They said a combined deal that puts the two parcels together and results in the Masons' piece at the base of Ash Canyon remaining permanently undeveloped is appealing enough to the city to change the master plan and reclassify the state's land as developable.

"If this works, our land will stay just like it was since 1872," said Murray.

And, he said, the Masonic Lodge will get enough out of the deal with the state - which splits the profits by acreage - to rehabilitate its downtown property at the old Virginia & Truckee rail station.

At the same time, Wilcox said the state will profit because its land will be more valuable if single-family homes can be built on it rather than saved as permanent open space.

And the city gets rid of a potential problem by being able to plan the entire project instead of letting parcels develop piecemeal. It also gets a better chance to plan for utility needs and another road to the area.

Sullivan says the state property is a logical development site because it is already nearly surrounded by developable land. The Timberline subdivision is above it and WNCC below on the hillside.

At the same time, he said, the Masonic property probably shouldn't be developed because it's much more rugged and is at the base of the canyon.

"It helps everyone get something they want," he said.

But Sullivan said he wanted to make it clear that the city isn't holding the state up by refusing to change the master plan. He said the land was historically open space and, when the city master plan was developed in 1995-96, the state was invited to participate and advise on its properties.

"We received absolutely no input from the state on their land so we left it designated as open space," he said.

"Pam became unglued when she saw the maps," he said. "She wanted it developable and wanted a higher density but, by that time, the plan was done so I said no, that it's got to meet the same standards any developer has to meet to change the plan.

"I said they've got to go through the process and show us why," Sullivan said.

Wilcox says the open space classification took the state by surprise but that the deal with the Masons will be good for all parties.

"Now what we have to do is prepare a packet for IFC to show them that," she said.

All concerned hope to have the proposal back in front of the Interim Finance Committee at its next meeting in 40 days.


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