A valley in Storey County could be filled with thousands of new homes if a proposed development is approved by county leaders.
The 8,000-home project, which would also include retail shops and offices, could alter the political landscape of Storey County by shifting power from the county seat of Virginia City to the northern communities.
However, Blake Smith, managing partner for Somersett Development Co. said Cordevista, a mixed-use, master-planned community in the center of the county, will be a complement to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Park without impacting other communities, especially Lockwood and Virginia City Highlands.
The development is planned for the old TRW property, where the explosive pellets that cause air bags to inflate were tested. The 8,600-acre property that Blake purchased 2 1/2 years ago is 5.2 miles from the TRI industrial park, 4.3 miles from the Virginia City Highlands fire station, 3.9 miles from Lockwood, 9 miles from Virginia City and 13.5 miles from Reno.
"We are miles from the nearest community out here," Smith said.
Smith is seeking a master plan amendment and zone change from industrial to residential and commercial from Storey County.
He estimated eventually to have two homes per acre on the 8,600-acre property, with about 40 percent or 50 percent left as open space. The first building should go up in two to four years, he said, with total build taking 20 to 50 years, depending on the market demand.
The matter will go before the Storey County Planning Commission in a few months, but Smith has been holding town hall meetings in adjacent communities first.
A meeting was held Saturday in Lockwood, and another will take place March 10 for residents of the Virginia City Highlands.
Storey County Commissioner Greg "Bum" Hess said there was no doubt the proposed development could shift power to the north and have other impacts.
"I don't think there's any question about that," he said. "Anytime you double the population of a county in a few short years, it's going to be tough for a county, let alone 10 times that much."
He said he understood the development would have 50,000 people when it is all played out.
"We're going to let Blake run his course through the planning commission and the commissioners and see what his exact proposal is," he said.
Hess said other housing is planned for the area, including between 3,200 to 3,800 lots at Painted Rock and an additional 17,000 acres to be developed into 37,000 homes near Silver Springs in Lyon County.
Smith said if his plan is approved, building the infrastructure will take a year or two, after which the 120,000 square feet of office and retail complex will be built, then housing.
"Right now, there's no place for the workers at TRI to go and have lunch," he said. "They have to go to Sparks or Reno."
Smith said that providing housing near the industrial park, which abuts the proposed development, would ease congestion on Interstate 80.
Smith said that TRI was the largest industrial park in the world, the first phase of which is almost completed, and soon 8,000 people will be working there. He said when the 102,000-acre industrial park is built out, it will employ about 180,000 workers.
He said no roads would be built to Lockwood or the Virginia City Highlands, but would connect to USA Parkway to the east, the Mustang area to the north and Double Diamond or Damonte Ranch to the west.
Smith said there is not enough water on the property to service the project, and plans to bring water in from outside the county.
"We have a couple of possible sources, but nothing definite," he said.
He said he would build a pocket sewage treatment plant that would service the entire development.
Smith said his company would work to protect petroglyphs on adjacent county property that have been the target of vandals, and he would address the issue of wild horses.
"We want to be good stewards of the land," he said. "This is a national treasure, and we want to protect it."
He said he would master-plan for schools, fire and police stations and other service items, and would negotiate with the county to help pay for them, but said the county would be responsible for staffing and the school district would have to expand.
He said that growth doesn't pay its own way all the time; that police, fire and other services for a development often cost more than the development pays in taxes; but that with higher-end properties, the county has a better chance of ending up on the plus side.
"If you create higher-end housing, it generates five times the taxes it costs the county to service it," he said, adding that homes in Cordevista would range from entry- to executive level.
Lockwood resident Connie Butts supported the development, saying that officials in Washoe County have threatened to take taxes away from Storey to pay for services.
But Washoe County Commissioner Jim Galloway and Hess denied that.
"If there were such a concern it would go before the Legislature," Galloway said. "There is a concern Storey County should provide housing, but we're not telling them where, and we're not threatening to take any taxes. I think that would be heavy-handed to do to a neighbor."
Hess said he was keeping an open mind about the project.
"The bottom line is, if I think it's good for Storey County, I'll approve it, and if I think it's bad for the county, I'll vote against it," he said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111, ext. 351.
If you go
WHAT: Town Hall meeting on Cordevista subdivision and tour of the property
WHEN: 9 a.m. March 10
WHERE: Virginia City Highlands Fire Station, Lousetown and Cartwright Roads, Virginia City Highlands
CALL: (775) 323-1405 for reservations on the tour