Abby Johnson: The community we want to be

Editor’s Note: The Vintage project has been pulled from the Nov. 28 agenda of the Carson City Planning Commission.


“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” — W.J. Cameron

Giving thanks begins with each of us. The intrinsic benefits of being grateful improve mood, outlook and even health. The direct relationship between giving thanks and improving one’s sense of well-being remains scientifically inexact. But how many moral actions have a national holiday? Just one — Thanksgiving.

Family, friends, shelter, safety, clear air, and the generosity of others: the horrific fires in California put in perspective how much there is to be thankful for. In contrast the revival of the Vintage project on the Westside of Carson City seems almost trivial. But in surprising ways, its return to the public eye (just in time for the holidays) raises fundamental questions about what kind of community we want to be.

A refresher: Two years ago, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, over the objections of many neighboring residents, approved Vintage, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the Andersen Ranch property west of Mountain Street and north of Kings Canyon Road. That approval changed the zoning dramatically, proposing to pack in many more homes than the original zoning and to commercially zone five acres for an assisted living and congregate care facility. It was to be a community of active wine-sipping retirees, aging in place and enjoying the good life, including assisted living.

The Board of Supervisors approved the PUD, adding conditions, but not materially changing the speculative plan except to nix the age restriction. Now, two years later the property owners are returning to the city, at the holidays, seeking approval for the first of what will likely be many amendments to the approved plan.

They would like the city to own and maintain the streets and be responsible for snow removal rather than the Homeowners Association, and allow public street access from West Sunset Way to the south through to La Mirada Street to the north. In addition, they want to raise allowable building height for the “one story” homes with cathedral-style ceilings to be significantly higher than originally promised. Finally, they want to change project phasing to sell and build the larger homes first and delay the assisted living, congregate care and community amenities to the final phase. It’s unclear whether they’re still committed to providing public open space and public access trails.

The original developer who made promises to the city is gone. The property owners are now represented by a finance company which matches projects with developers and investors. In other words, the new developer is really not a developer.

The amendment request is likely the first of many. The process already seems like “bait and switch” as the owners ask the city to approve significant and material changes to the project, again and again.

At its Nov. 28 meeting, after 5 p.m., the Planning Commission will take public comment on the amendment and decide whether to forward it to the Board of Supervisors for approval. The Planning Commission must consider the full cost for the city to operate and maintain the PUD roads. What open space and trails will be available for public use? And why are even taller homes being requested? Where does the city draw the line and how does the city protect existing homeowners?

Adversity and gratitude are unlikely partners. But daily gratitude is a practice which can be strengthened by the “stuff happens” of real life.

For the past two years, ever since the disheartening approval of the Vintage development, I’ve been exceedingly grateful for the open space of the Andersen Ranch, for the cows and sheep and coyotes and hawks and deer. This long lovely autumn I’ve enjoyed golden cottonwoods, tawny fields, and long unobstructed views. My gratitude practice is to appreciate what’s there for as long as I can; a daily Thanksgiving.

Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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