Parking in downtown Minden should get easier thanks to the Douglas County Planning Commission.
Planning commissioners approved a special-use permit on Tuesday for a new parking lot at the corner of Highway 395 and Esmeralda Avenue as part of the proposed C.O.D. Casino. The parking lot, to be completed in the next two years, will be open to the general public, not just casino patrons.
Douglas County code would normally require 155 parking spaces to accommodate a project the size of the casino. The proposed lot would provide only 58 spaces, plus additional spaces on the street, including seven handicap spaces, for a total of 74.
"Any general commercial use on this site needs a parking variance," said project engineer Rob Anderson. "It can't be avoided."
Anderson said businesses in downtown Minden have always lacked adequate parking, including his own office and the county offices in the old Minden Inn. He said Minden officials work diligently to find solutions to the parking shortage.
Town of Minden board members argued that a privately funded parking lot, even if limited in quantity, would help downtown businesses and compensate for a failed county proposal to build a parking garage.
"If we have parking problems, that's great," said Minden Town board member Ray Wilson. "That means the project is successful."
Fellow board member Bob Hadfield said a crowded parking lot would be a welcome problem, since the downtown economy is struggling.
"Downtown businesses are not supported by residents of Douglas County," he said. "They get in their cars and go north."
Hadfield said government subsidies give businesses in North Douglas County a competitive edge, while downtown districts are left fending for themselves. He urged commissioners to approve variances in order to secure the potentially lucrative project.
"This is a way to bring life back to historic Minden," he said. "Give us just a little. Help businesses help themselves."
Anderson said with a change in zoning, the now empty 95-year-old, 21,000-square-foot building at the intersection of Esmeralda Avenue and Fourth Street, known as C.O.D. Garage and owned by the pioneer Hellwinkel family, would encompass a casino, retail store, bakery and historic exhibit.
"It's not just another casino project," he said. "Our design preserves the historic nature of downtown, and offers a direct economic benefit to the Town of Minden and the people of Douglas County."
Planning commissioners approved a zoning map amendment, changing the property from general commercial to tourist commercial with a gaming district overlay. They also approved a a variance allowing a proposed sign in the corner of the parking lot to exceed the height limit by five feet, from 20-25 feet.
"It's a tastefully done sign," Anderson said. "It's not unbecoming of the area."
The 25-foot brick facade would bear the casino's name and logo, an LED reader board announcing downtown events, and the bakery's name and logo, Bishop, Calif.,-based Schat's bakery.
"It's rare to see a long-term approach with significant private investment," said planning commissioner Lawrence Howell. "This wouldn't work without a sense of community."