One of Reno's largest developments fuels growth debate

RENO -- Construction is under way on one of Reno's largest housing developments, and a growth debate is heating up.

Developers defend the Somersett master-planned community, saying it's a quality project designed to meet the needs of a rapidly growing city.

But some locals complain about the development's impact on traffic, water supplies and wildlife. Somersett is only the latest in a string of massive developments to surface as Californians and others flood to the Reno area.

The 2,376-acre project will feature 2,408 single-family homes, 240 townhouse apartments and 50,000 square feet of commercial space. It will boost Reno's population by about 6,000, increasing car trips in the area by nearly 24,000.

With some water wells already running dry, local elected officials are considering steps to ensure that growth does not outstrip the desert area's water supplies.

"Nobody wants to see it (growth)," said Howard Zunino, a 42-year resident of Verdi just west of Reno. "It definitely won't be rural -- not after all that.

"The whole area has a water problem and (developers) aren't bringing any water with them," he said.

Craig Mortimore, a game biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife, said mule deer face trouble ahead as Somersett and similar projects gobble up habitat.

Located along Interstate 80 on Reno's west fringe, Somersett will cover what wildlife officials call critical winter habitat for deer.

"These are battles we never seem to win," Mortimore told a Reno newspaper. "Deer will never disappear completely, but they will continue to diminish in number. I would say wildlife always loses."

Because growth is inevitable, high-end planned communities are what the Reno area needs for a prosperous future, Somersett developers insist.

"It's a community not just for today but for where Reno is going," said Michele Attaway, marketing director for Somersett Development Co.

Blake Smith, the company's president, said Somersett could serve as a model for future development. Its design of clustered villages leaves more than half the community as open space.

"I think our vision is to deliver a way of life, a master-planned community aesthetically and socially appealing to people," he said.

"We want to be sensitive to the land. We literally could have had twice the density -- 5,000 or 6,000 units," Smith said.

But Chris Exline, a professor of urban planning at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he's concerned projects like Somersett could lead to urban sprawl along the I-80 corridor west of Reno.

"It's a concern I've had for some time. It's the San Jose effect," Exline said. "It's pretty much when everything just flows into everything else. It could happen here."


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