Churchill County’s rural way of life

Commissioners vote to update building codes

After listening to county residents voice their opposition for almost 90 minutes to a new coding chart affecting residential areas, the Churchill County commissioners unanimously voted April 20 to accept the new code structure that will streamline the current residential districts and a third code for intensive multi-family residential units.
County residents expressed their concerns that large areas of pristine land could be turned into multi-family apartments or condominiums and that their rural way of life could be altered.
The commissioners took action only on the new code structure. Some residents who either attended the meeting or opined on several Facebook posts thought the commission was planning to take action on building plans, which was not the case.
County Manager Jim Barbee emphasized this was only a code change not a zoning change. He explained that any building plans must initially be presented to the Churchill County Planning Commission and then to the commissioners for discussion and a public hearing. He said any study would look at water, traffic and roads, and a private engineer would develop the study.
“This action (accepting the new code structure) restricts the code from what it is today,” Barbee said. “This restricts the density.”
Barbee said a housing study from 2019 indicates the county could see an increase from 1,577 to 2,257 new jobs between 2021 to 2025. He said the unemployment rate is currently 2.3% in Churchill County.
Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in its latest report states the March unemployment rate in Churchill County has decreased to less than 3%. Figures show that 11,013 individuals out of a workforce of 11,270 are employed.
Based on those employment numbers, Barbee said the area may need 328 to 470 new units of housing based on the housing study.
According to the county agenda, the changes provide for the following:
The new ordinance provides for multi-family development with an intensity that is customary for large apartment complexes. The ordinance will provide for the following:
• Establishes the new zone
• Makes adjustments to the R-2 zone to coordinate the zone description, its allowed density, and its development standards with the new R-3 zone.
• Makes adjustments to the Planned Unit Development (PUD) standards to incorporate the new zone into those standards and coordinate it with the other residential zones.
• Establishes allowed uses for the new R-3 zone in the Use Table, along with adjustments to the R-2 zone to coordinate the two zones.
• Establishes a new section to provide development standards for all multi-family development (whether in the R-2 zone, R-3 zone, Planned Unit Developments, etc.).
Barbee said a Navy study shows Naval Air Station Fallon could increase in personnel from 1,088 to a high of 1,801.
Zip Upham, public affairs office for NAS Fallon, said Thursday in a separate interview the base is short 192 housing units, and approximately 15% of the sailors live in another county. He said contract employees do not receive a housing allowance from the U.S. government.
Steve Blais, who lives on Dallas Road, said he felt the public would have more faith in the commissioners and the code change if infrastructure was in place to handle the additional residents and traffic. Blais and other residents in the area have concerns about the open land along Birch Lane being developed. Currently, some of the land is listed for sale by a real estate company.

In earlier comments, Blais said the tragic along Allen and Casey roads and Birch Lane could add upward to 1,200 vehicles. He said those areas don’t have sidewalks or street lights.
Commission Chairman Pete Olsen assured Blais and the others who spoke that any development requires a long process to study and approve or disapprove.
“There’s a process in place,” Olsen said.
Lori Souba, who expressed her concerns about the code changes and development that could alter the residents' rural way of life, said the commission’s action centers on trust.
“I don’t trust you with the current zoning,” she said.
Souba, who lives on Silver Circle, told commissioners not to place the residents who have concerns on the backburner.
In earlier comments, Souba said she doesn’t want to see 600 units added in the neighborhood. She said the current density is adequate.
“We have plenty of space,” she said. “Don’t destroy our neighborhood.”
Nancy Hoggard, who worked for the military for 25 years, said she understands their needs.
“I love my neighborhood, I love my town,” she said.
Hoggard said Olsen, who she said owns a multi-million dollar dairy operation, has agricultural land to keep him safe. She then questioned the number of units being proposed.
Commissioner Dr. Greg Koenig said he, too, supports the rural way of life and has been a resident of Churchill County for decades. Likewise, Commissioner Dr. Justin Heath, who grew up in Fallon and graduated from Churchill County High School, said the new code change provides a great vision for the community.
Tanya Freeman, a candidate for the Churchill County commission, said she also wants infrastructure built into the plan, and she would like to see any development occur at a slower pace. She also said other residents don’t want to see this change occur.
Launa Workman, who lives north of Soda Lake, said she didn’t hear anything about sewer and water availability. Charles “Chuck” Sanches, who lives on Dallas Road, said he’s concerned about the increased traffic, especially on McLean and Allen roads. He also said the issue of water and sewer must be addressed.
Linda Thompson said the area needs affordable housing, especially with monthly payments not exceeding $1,000 a month. Both Thompson and Amber Sanchez said the commissioners should hold a meeting at night to receive more input from residents.
Raina Blais said any decision will shape their lives for many years. She also cited the new business construction in town, wondering if Arby’s or the new Boot Barn will be here in five years. Arby’s previously had a franchise in Fallon, but it closed because of the recession in 2009. Likewise, she said clothing stores come and go and wondered if Boot Barn would follow that trend.
Other speakers questioned the need for additional housing if there are no jobs in Fallon. However according to statistics from the Churchill Entrepreneurial Development Association, approximately 43% of Churchill County employed residents commute outside the area for jobs to the industrial parks in Fernley, the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center and government or private jobs in the Reno area or Carson City. Some also commute to work at the Nevada state prison in Lovelock.
In an interview with the LVN in 2018, Berney realtor/owner Cari Norcutt said Fallon is on the eastern end of growth due to the Reno-Tahoe Industrial Center. While many people working at the center east of Sparks are living in the Truckee Meadows, Norcutt said others have decided to move to Fernley or Fallon where housing costs are less expensive. More than five years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office in Nevada began encouraging families to look at the smaller communities because of their housing, schools and quality of life.
Another trend that’s been occurring, say local real estate agents, reveals that Washoe County residents who have retired are selling their homes for a huge profit and then relocating to areas such as Fallon, Yerington, Winnemucca or Elko.

To see the entire code change, go to and look for the original presentation on April 7 under Board of Commissioners.


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