August 22, 2007
Talk of a conflict of interest with one of Storey County’s commissioners and the possibility of legal action against the county preceded the commission’s rejection of the proposed Cordevista development project.
The commission Tuesday upheld the Planning Commission’s July 19 decision to reject a master plan amendment and zone change request by Blake Smith, who sought to build the planned-unit development made up of thousands of homes and commercial development, on 11,000 acres he owns in the center of Storey County.
For that they received a standing ovation from many of the more than 100 residents at the meeting.
Sen. Mark Amodei, who as an attorney represents Smith, sent a packet to the commission’s legal counsel, Mark Gunderson, alleging Commissioner Greg “Bum” Hess had a conflict of interest on Cordevista as he is involved in Civaletto LLC, a company that wants to build 3,500 homes at Painted Rock, in the far northeastern corner of the county.
The planning commission’s recommendation to reject Cordevista was upheld 2-0, with Hess abstaining. He had also abstained on the Painted Rock approval last year.
Ironically, Amodei was also a lawyer for Painted Rock Partners, which is involved in the Painted Rock project.
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Amodei asked for full disclosure of Hess’ involvement in Painted Rock.
“Before you form an opinion, you have to have a disclosure of conflicting interests,” he said. “We are making a claim there is conflicting statements.”
Gunderson said the packet was only provided to him Aug. 17, too late for him to investigate the claims.
“It is unfair to Mr. Hess to put him in this position,” Gunderson said.
Smith said he was disappointed with the vote and would do “whatever we need to do. We will step back and look at our alternatives.”
Smith had initially requested a master plan amendment and zone change from special industrial and forestry, but both in the July 19 meeting and Tuesday his attorneys stated they didn’t need the amendment.
Attorney Stephen Mollath said the zone change request was in compliance with the master plan, thereby rendering that request unnecessary.
“I believe the request (by county staff) to file and process an application for a master plan amendment was inappropriate,” he said. “We believe the zone change is consistent with the current master plan.”
Mollath said the state mandates master plans be looked at as a whole.
“The master plan can’t be utilized as a legislative straitjacket,” he said. “It has to be looked at as a whole, not have little pieces picked out and say ‘this is inconsistent.'”
Mollath also said the Legislature requires zone changes to be the result of a reasoned process, but the Cordevista property ended up with the special industrial zoning as a result of the county trying to shut down the rocket making operations of High Shear Inc., the owner of the Cordevista property in 1989.
High Shear filed a lawsuit – with Mollath as its attorney -which led to the special industrial zoning, Mollath said.
“Now we have the reverse,” he said. “The county now seems to want the rocket plant.”
Mollath said the industrial designation was not the result of a “reasoned process.”
Dean Haymore, the county’s building official and planning administrator, agreed that the zoning was reactionary, adding that his first day on the job he red-tagged High Shear and closed it because of numerous complaints of explosions and noncompliance with state and federal rules. Those violations led to a $1.2 million fine against the company and prison sentences for two managers of the company.
“They said they wanted to be good neighbors, and the next day we were sued,” he said.
Haymore said that if the Cordevista request was approved, the county would have to change every part of the master plan.
“I firmly still believe that an amendment is required.” he said.
Greg Haws, a professional planner from Utah brought in by Mollath, disagreed with Haymore and backed up the claim that a master plan amendment was not necessary.
Haws cited sections of the county’s master plan that called for diversification of economic development and creation of housing.
“It notes a large amount of land in the north of the county is in private hands and has considerable growth potential,” Haws said. “That growth is foreseen.”
He said the creation of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center changed the way the master plan was read.
“Cordevista complements TRI and provides housing to ensure success to what you’ve already done,” he said. “TRI changes everything.”
But residents at the meeting who spoke opposed the plan, saying it was not in compliance with the master plan.
Joanne Aldrich, of Virginia City, offered petitions to the commission containing 617 signatures of people who want any change to be put before voters.
Thomas Purkey, also of Virginia City, said he was a professional planner for 25 years and disagreed that the zone change request was in compliance with the master plan, quoting a section of the document that calls “large-scale planned unit subdivisions” a threat.
“I would like to see the county adhere to that vision,” he said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.
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