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Between vision and reality, a hundred questions

Barry Smith

There oughta be a law. It just shouldn’t apply to me.

That, in a nutshell, sums up the attitudes of too many people when it comes to having an opinion on what gets developed in their neighborhood, their city and their state.

For example, that purple house a few blocks from where I live. For crying out loud, I think, I’m glad I don’t live next to that guy. Can’t the city do something about it?

Of course not. Nor would we want the city to regulate the color of our houses. Some homeowners associations have strict rules on such things, which people accept when they buy a home there. But trying to dictate taste and respect for others gets to be a very tricky thing.

In the last several days, two projects have set Carson City atwitter. One is Max Baer Jr.’s plan for a Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino. The other is the application from Don Lehr for demolition of Jack’s Bar.

What should we do? The opinions have flown far and wide, and people certainly have a right to express them. In fact, it’s healthy for the community to have these kind of free-for-all debates. It helps city leaders gauge which way the wind’s blowing.

The devil’s in the details, as they say, and both these projects have a ways to go.

But let’s get some broad realities out in the open right now. One is that city officials don’t — and never should — dictate what kinds of businesses come to town. The other is that property owners nevertheless don’t get to do anything they want with their properties.

The Board of Supervisors last year threw down a gauntlet when they decided any new casinos would have to include at least a 100-room hotel, or some similar amenity.

I didn’t like the idea, because it encroaches directly on free trade. But because gaming licenses are a privilege, the supervisors have the authority to make such a rule.

What happened? Casino Fandango moved in just under the wire, no doubt spurred by the new restriction. And then along comes Baer with his plan for a casino and 240-room hotel. So it looks like the supervisors are getting exactly what they asked for.

Should city officials now tell Baer, “Well, we were hoping for something a little more tasteful.” They can if they want, but Baer can also ignore them.

Can they tell him a flame-belching 200-foot oil derrick is prohibited in Carson City? Yes, they can. And should.

Over at Jack’s Bar, Lehr showed me around last week. It’s a mess. He pointed to the ceiling, the floor, the wall leaning over the sidewalk.

Obviously, something needs to be done. The issue is that plaque on the wall which says it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Without that plaque, Jack’s Bar might well be a pile of rocks today.

With it, Lehr is going to have to go through the city’s Historic Review Commission. The place is obviously historic, but as Lehr points out, which parts? What’s the best way to deal with it?

I hope he gets some good answers. And I hope he’s able to strike a nice compromise that makes it both a useful piece of downtown real estate and still a historic piece of the capital city.

It’s not like Lehr has no sense of history. He also walked Kelli Du Fresne and me around the Ormsby House construction site, where he pointed out the pains his construction crew is going through to construct a first-class casino and hotel out of a building that had, oh, a thousand or so problems.

He could have knocked down the Ormsby House. It was built about 70 years after Jack’s Bar. It doesn’t have a plaque on the wall.

That pile of rocks being stored in the parking lot to the south is a clue, though, that they are trying to maintain a link from the Ormsby House of the past to the Ormsby House of the future.

Lehr also showed us where he was required to put in a handicapped-accessible curb, when just down the block there is a giant power pole sticking out of the center of the sidewalk. It didn’t make much sense to me, either, although I understand why the law requires buildings be brought up to code when they’re renovated.

Inside the Winchester Club, he pointed to white ceiling tiles over the bar that he says were required of his place but not other bars in town. He showed us cracks in the parking garage they’re repairing. He wondered whether anyone would dare raise a fuss when they knock down the decrepit Capitol Motel. We wandered around the maze of electrical, plumbing and heating systems in the basement of the Ormsby House, marveling at how they ever functioned in the first place.

Then, up on the 10th floor, we got the view from what will be a suite overlooking the Legislative Building, capitol and downtown Carson City. It’s quite a vision.

Two very different projects. Two very different men. Hundreds of rules and regulations stand between them and their visions, it’s true. But they shouldn’t be criticized for having those visions, whether we share them or not.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.