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Planning for Carson City’s future

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Andrew Burnham, left, and Lee Plemel, lean against a crane in Carson City.
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Some say the capital city is experiencing growing pains. A freeway being built through the city promises to not only divert traffic away from its historic downtown corridor, it will shine new light on other outlying areas that may see major retail development and a shift in landscape. Retail centers are changing and economic diversity sits on the horizon.

For so long, city leaders have waited for some definitive sign from the state as to when – or if – the freeway would be built, giving them the “green light” to plan ahead for future development. Last year, that sign came with Gov. Kenny Guinn’s announcement of his intentions to fund the project and shovels started moving quickly after.

Andrew Burnham, Development Services Director, and Principal Planner Lee Plemel recently took time to answer questions about the city’s work to update its master plan and prepare for the city’s future.

Why is it important for the city to develop the new plan?

Burnham: As the city grows and available land for development becomes more scarce, it becomes more important that future development occurs in a form that is beneficial to the residents of Carson City. The update will include an economic analysis of the effects of future growth scenarios – in other words, how much will this growth cost the city to maintain – which is critical for the fiscal health of the city considering the limited land we have left to develop. We want the new plan based on a shared community vision and based on valid information obtained through the process. The goal is a better quality of life for all residents of Carson City.

Plemel: This is a time of many changes occurring in the city, including the construction of the freeway, and we think it is time to re-evaluate current plans to ensure the city is heading in the right direction.

How much does the freeway play into the new plan?

Burnham: The freeway certainly creates a potential opportunity for new retail development. The freeway is one of the major changes occurring in the city that warrants a re-evaluation of how future growth will occur.

Plemel: There are plenty of issues that go along with the new freeway. It could have effects on land uses, not just next to it, but city-wide. There are also visual and aesthetic issues, and freeway signs, to name a couple. The freeway is probably the single biggest factor in terms of changes effecting future growth and land use.

Why is the city looking to change its current master plan?

Burnham: A city master plan typically tries to guide development for the next 20 years. But they also need to be re-evaluated every few years, typically about every five to seven years, to address changing conditions and trends and to ensure the policies remain on track to meet the city’s goals and objectives.

Plemel: The changes in the Land Use Element of the master plan will likely focus on areas of the city that are currently undeveloped. We want to look at what types of uses should generally be allowed in various areas to meet the desired goals of the city. In other words, where should future residential, commercial and industrial uses be developed? This is also a chance for the city to consolidate other elements of the master plan such as economic development, transportation, utilities, and others, into one comprehensive document that is consistent and easy for everyone to understand.

How will the process evolve?

Burnham: The city is currently working with a planning consultant to help develop a complete scope of work for the planning process. Our primary focus in the process will be public information and outreach. We want everyone to have access to information and to have the opportunity to participate in the process.

Plemel: The process will evolve in three distinct stages: 1) Evaluating current trends and conditions in the city, such as population and economic trends; 2) developing alternative scenarios as to how Carson City could grow and develop in the future; and 3) develop a final plan that will help the city achieve it’s goals as identified through the first two project phases.

How would a new master plan change the city’s built landscape?

Burnham: A master plan not only contains maps that show where certain types of land uses should occur in the future, but it is also a policy document to help guide future land use decisions. It could also contain direction regarding design standards or other standards that could effect what future development looks like. How things might change will be determined as a result of the process.

Plemel: The process will determine what changes might occur to the plan. We hope for lots of public participation and recommendations throughout the process.

Will the city’s retail centers change?

Burnham: I think there could be some opportunities for change along our commercial corridors considering the regional retail market that is growing in our area. An economic analysis of our commercial corridors will be included as part of the master plan update process.

Plemel: There could be changes to our retail centers. But again, it depends on the results of the process, the public input, and final decisions based on the information obtained.

When will the master plan update process start?

Plemel: We are still working with consultants to develop a work plan for the update, including a new Parks and Recreation Element of the master plan. We expect to begin public workshops this summer. It will likely take about 18 months to get through the whole process, with lots of public input and feedback along the way.

You’ve been around for many changes through the years. What do you think about this possible new direction for Carson City?

Burnham: Carson City is a maturing City and the next 10 years should be exciting as we define what we are to be. The region as a whole is changing quickly and those changes are affecting Carson City and its future.

What do you see in the city’s future?

Burnham: Carson City is poised to be a regional center of activity with the significant residential growth occurring in Lyon County and Douglas County. I see a continued improvement in the quality of life for Carson City residents.