Carson City talking about Master Plan update

A map showing land use designations in the Carson City Master Plan.

A map showing land use designations in the Carson City Master Plan.
Carson City Community Development and Public Works.

Adopted in 2006, the Carson City Master Plan has steered planning and development through a recession and a pandemic, through peaks and valleys of economic activity. Every year it is reviewed, and, according to the city’s own strategic plan, it will need an update by 2025.

“(It) means pretty soon we’re going to be looking at our Master Plan in a comprehensive way,” said Carson City Community Development Director Hope Sullivan.

Sullivan was speaking to planning commissioners at a Dec. 20 meeting. Shortly after her presentation, commissioners unanimously approved the annual Master Plan report. State law requires planning commissioners to make an annual recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding implementation of the Master Plan. Included in the report is a list of recommended action items. The report also provides an overview of the city’s growth and how it relates to the Master Plan.

“Since the Master Plan provides land uses for growth up to a buildout population of approximately 75,000-80,000, and since growth has occurred slower than was expected when it was adopted, the ‘life’ of the plan could be extended,” Sullivan wrote in the report. “Projections are that Carson City will not reach this buildout population for 30 to 50 or more years.”

The city’s current population is under 60,000. The city’s growth management program, which began in 1978, caps the number of residential building permits to a 3 percent growth rate. According to data from the community development department, available residential building permits – more than 600 each year over the last decade – have stayed well above those issued. And despite some spikes in multifamily housing in the last five years, residential construction in the capital city appears to be slowing.

“Through the end of November, we had 346 housing starts,” Sullivan told planning commissioners about the total this year. “Things are really, really slowing down. In October, we had four single-family housing starts and one duplex. In November, we had seven housing starts.”

Sullivan emphasized the city’s philosophy of “infill,” also found in the Carson City Strategic Plan adopted in 2021.

“Encourage growth within existing urban boundaries and infill in existing developed areas to prevent ‘sprawl’ and higher infrastructure maintenance costs,” reads one tactic listed in the strategic plan.

“This tactic is consistent with the Master Plan’s guiding principle 1 which calls for a compact and efficient pattern of growth,” Sullivan wrote in the annual report.

The Master Plan designates land use categories which, hopefully, are compatible with the underlying zoning of any given parcel. Zoning changes and master plan amendments go to planning commissioners first and then the Board of Supervisors.

A recent example from the Dec. 20 meeting was a request from city staff to change the zoning of the old hospital site on Fleischmann Way. Stemming from last year’s Master Plan review, the original proposal would have changed the 7.15-acre site from public regional zoning to retail commercial. Noting the site is no longer publicly owned, though still used for medical purposes, city planners thought retail commercial was the “least intensive” zoning in which a hospital could be located. The new Carson Tahoe hospital in north Carson is in the retail commercial zone as well.

However, the old hospital site is surrounded by neighborhoods. Many residents at the Dec. 20 meeting voiced concerns about converting the site to retail commercial.

“By doing residential retail commercial, it brings in all kinds of unnecessary discontinuity with the current environment,” said resident Bepsy Strasburg.

Planning commissioners agreed and made a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to rezone the property to residential office. Even if this creates a non-conforming use with the current medical facilities, the use would be grandfathered in, maintaining compatibility with the neighborhood.

Another example was a recent code change to the tourist commercial district off Old Hot Springs Road. In November, supervisors approved an ordinance adding breweries and tasting rooms as conditional uses in the tourist commercial zoning district.

The ordinance was spurred by Shoe Tree Brewing Co. wanting to expand on a neighboring parcel. Plans are to renovate an existing warehouse into a beer production facility and tasting room. Planning commissioners approved a special use permit for the project on Dec. 20. However, as part of the Master Plan annual report, planning commissioners also recommended supervisors review the tourist commercial zone and determine if it’s necessary.

Additionally, as part of the Master Plan report, planning commissioners recommended the board review the general industrial airport zoning district and the retail commercial zoning district that dominates so much of the north end of the city.

Zoning is one part of the puzzle of master planning. An update of Title 18 that deals with zoning is currently underway in the Carson City District Attorney’s Office. A draft of that update is expected to be presented to planning commissioners and the board in the spring.

Another part of the Master Plan puzzle is management of resources.

“The recent land use and water capacity analysis conducted by the Public Works and Community Development departments in 2022 was included with the annual growth management report to the Growth Management Commission,” Sullivan wrote in the Master Plan report. “The findings confirm that the city has enough water to accommodate full residential and non-residential build-out of the city under the current Master Plan land use designations and densities.”

Besides regulating residential construction, the city’s growth management program also requires commercial or industrial developers apply for special approval if daily water usage is projected to surpass 15,000 gallons.

On Dec. 20, Carson City Engineer Randall Rice presented planning commissioners – convened as the Growth Management Commission – with new water analysis that recommends dropping that approval threshold to 10,000-12,000 gallons.

Rice said prior to 2016, the threshold was 7,500 gallons a day. He said since 2014, the GMC has reviewed nine requests for permits exceeding the threshold.

This year, city staff reviewed more than 1,100 commercial and industrial uses in Carson City to arrive at the new threshold.

“We should probably go through this process every three to five years,” Rice said.

He said the planning commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding the new threshold in the spring.

According to Darren Schulz, director of Public Works, Carson City has 18,600 acre-feet per annum of water rights. Of that, 11,400 are currently being used, and 2,800 have been permitted but not yet in use. He also pointed out the city reuses 3,000 AFA of effluent.

At the Dec. 20 hearing, Rice talked openly about not only water, but development, property rights, growth management and other issues affecting the city. Rice said it’s not the job or goal of city staff to push for, or deny, development.

“It’s not us that’s pushing development,” he said. “Our goal here is the checks-and-balances portion.”

The Carson City Master Plan can be viewed online at

The annual Master Plan report can also be found online at


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