The battle for the soul of Midtown kicks off Wednesday night at 6 PM, when the Planning Commission gets its first presentation of sweeping changes to the Midtown Neighborhood Plan.  You can catch the meeting on Charter 213, stream if from the City of Reno web site, or better yet, attend the meeting at city hall.

Update:  Due to a noticing error, the Midtown Zoning item has been pulled from Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, and will be rescheduled at a later date.

Reno establishes base zoning districts, regulating allowed uses, density, lot size, setbacks, and parking requirements.  Superimposed on the base districts are Neighborhood Plans, which alter and generally intensify the uses allowed under the base districts plan.

Reno established the South Virginia Street Transit Oriented Development Corridor base zoning district.  The intent was to allow more dense development along the SVA corridor, increase reliance on public transportation, and spur redevelopment with the density bonuses.  Later, the Midtown Neighborhood plan was overlaid on top of the TOD.  Reno is reevaluation their entire stance on TODs, but the current proposed revision is specific to the Midtown Neighborhood Plan.

The Midtown Plan is divided into 3 zones:

–  The SVA Corridor allows heights up to 75′  and 5 floors for buildings fronting Virginia Street.  The minimum residential density is 18 dwelling units per acre (DUA), above the 14 DUA minimum for the base zoning district.  The maximum density is 45 DUA if you can meet all the other plan requirements.  I don’t have any issues with the proposals for this strip

– The Midtown Commercial zone is generally the areas east of SVA between Center and Holcomb Street, south of Sinclair.  The current maximum density is 45 DUA, and the proposed revisions reduces that to 30 DUA.  Realistically, most single lots can only be developed to about 32 DUA due to setback, parking, landscape and height restrictions.  So not a big change.  Front setbacks are defined as 0′, but new regulations would limit the distance you could build in front of adjacent structures to 5′.  This helps maintain neighborhood character, but at the expense of density.

–  The Midtown Residential zone is defined as the plan Neighborhood Plan area west of SVA to Humboldt in the norther section, Plumas in the southern section, south to Mount Rose Street, and north to Marsh.  The proposed revisions to the Midtown Neighborhood Plan gut the development potential of this portion of the TOD.  The existing underlying allowed density is 14 DUA with a maximum of 45.  Again, other constraints realistically limit what is possible on an individual lot to about 32 DUA, 4-5 units on a standard 50’x140′ 7000 SF lot.  The proposed density is 16 DUA, only 2 units per standard 7000 SF lot.  THIS IS A TRANSIT CORRIDOR.  Though the defined front setback generally stays 0′ from the lot line, a maximum 3′ step up from the adjacent properties is allowed.  Not only does this further reduce density, it starts creating a street wall.

The proposed ordinance to be discussed at the Planning Commission can be found along with the meeting agenda on the City’s web site.  THIS draft document is easier to navigate, as the proposed changes are highlighted.

Why this sucks:  I have a client with a little duplex that also has a 200 SF barely habitable shack on the alley in the Midtown Residential zone..  They would love to tear down the shack and build a new duplex in its place, and the current Midtown Neighborhood Plan and TOD Plan would allow and encourage this.  The incentives to develop underused land is WHY they purchased in this neighborhood to begin with.  If the proposed revisions to the Plan are enacted, it will not be financially feasible, and the shack stays for another generation.  That’s not how to encourage redevelopment of a neighborhood.

So why this overcorrection in the Midtown Residential zone downgrade?  Look no further than Redfield Park at Midtown, originally designed as 54 townhouse units surrounding the historic Redfield Stone House and since reduced to 44 units.  This site should never have been within the TOD, but was included due to pressure exerted by the developers.  It is one of only 2 “assembled” properties in the zone  consisting of former multiple parcels where large scale development is possible.  Instead of reasonable infill housing on existing 7000 SF lots, the neighborhood got slammed with a block long modern development that somehow met all the planning standards.

It is important to encourage redevelopment along the SVA transit corridor.  It is reasonable to accept that some fine tuning of the Midtown Neighborhood plan is justified.  But it is neither reasonable nor acceptable to zone this core urban area to the same density as the Village in Somersett.  So step up and let your City Council representative know how you feel.

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