Capitol Mall North, a large downtown Carson City hotel and innovation district plan, cleared the Planning Commission hurdle Wednesday.
Commissioners voted to approve a special use permit for the private sector proposal and approved use of an estimated 83,000 gallons of water daily, on average, paving the way for initial construction of a parking garage on Carson Street and the eventual building along Stewart Street of a Hyatt Place hotel, conference space, office buildings, commercial space and another parking garage.
There also will be a plaza west of those planned buildings and east of existing structures along Carson Street, which the developer has touted as essential and of value to the entire community.
“The jewel of this area is that plaza we mentioned,” said Chris Baker of Manhard Consulting, speaking on behalf of Carson City Center Development LLC. He also likened the whole project to a campus. “What we’re really trying to do here is create an innovation district. Everything kind of functions around this public plaza.”
He said the project now envisions an amphitheater at both the north and south ends of the plaza, an ice rink in winter and space that can convert to a farmers’ market in summer near the 150-room hotel. The proposal also features green space punctuated by pavers in the open space for public use.
Parking structures and requirements, however, stirred some controversy when public testimony came and the initial one west of the casino along Carson Street was altered by the developer’s representatives even before the hearing reached the time for public testimony. Baker said the developer had decided to abandon plans for a skywalk over Carson Street to the casino.
Daniel Leck in his testimony didn’t believe 1,600 parking garage slots were sufficient, saying his view was 2,100 would be needed.
“Virtually all these buildings are going to require vehicle trips,” he said. “I believe parking is going to be a problem.”
Mark Rotter, also with Manhard, disagreed. He said the project conforms with and even exceeds city code on the number of parking slots, adding Leck’s view doesn’t take into account the project is going to help enhance downtown walkability.
Marie Bresch testified she didn’t like the idea of a parking garage on Carson Street.
“I love the city as it is,” she said. “We don’t want to be known as the parking garage city.” She said the garage for the casino should go behind it to the east off Carson Street.
Maurice White suggested using city symbols in the project to add appeal and using sandstone instead of limestone casting as an element. He also raised questions regarding traffic issues, including where turns are allowed on some streets. Manhard’s Rotter said the turns are allowed and the pair would talk after the meeting on White’s concerns.
In all, half a dozen people testified. A couple raised questions about what happens if the phased-in construction plans get interrupted and then abandoned because space can’t be rented, including Mary Fischer. She suggested the plaza be built early in the process, but Rotter said construction needs would get in the way. He also expressed confidence finishing wouldn’t be a problem.
“I will tell you that the (letters of intent) are significant,” he said, a reference to space filling up on a speculative basis as the project grows nearer. “We have the balance that makes sense.”
The commission approved the use permit and growth management water usage action without dissent, although there was one abstention. Commissioner Victor Castro abstained because he has an employment arrangement with the casino.
The project eventually will require in the later phases abandonment of a street, a lease arrangement for a small parking lot the city owns and an agreement with state government about more than an acre also in the project footprint. Most of the land involved, however, is owned by the Hop and Mae Adams Foundation. The late Adams couple owned and formerly operated the Carson Nugget casino.
The Carson Street parking garage, as the first phase, is primarily for the casino and can start soon. It will include retail facing Carson Street on the ground level. Because the skywalk at the south end was tossed out, Rotter said, the elevator that had been planned at the garage’s south end will be moved to the north end at the corner of Robinson and Carson streets.
Several reasons triggered the need for the use permit approval, among them the fact that some buildings exceeded the city’s downtown mixed use standards. However, building setbacks away from the streets and the plaza were proposed by the developer in the presentation as tradeoffs that made the project better. Baker, in his presentation, reminded commissioners of that.
“We used the development standards as a base guideline,” he said, but found the alternatives made sense. He said the Carson Street garage isn’t as tall as other buildings to preserve views of mountains to the west, while taller buildings with setbacks on the project’s east side left room for the plaza. “The alternative approach could be buildings.”
As for a requirement parking garages be wrapped on the street level with 50 percent commercial outlets, Baker said the Carson Street facility was short at 39 percent but the larger garage to the east has 65 percent commercial at ground level and so the project as a whole exceeds that 50 percent requirement.
At one point in the evening hearing, Baker estimated the project might be completed by 2018.
In other action, the commission voted 4-2 to approve a variance for 18 homes on 19 acres in two cul de sacs east of Hillview Drive between Clearview Drive and East Appion Way and recommended to the Board of Supervisors up to 638 residential building permits in 2016, if they are needed, and doubling the commercial growth management review water usage daily threshold from 7,500 to 15,000 gallons.