IMG_1903Sparks has over 500 units of housing under construction right now in their TOD (Transit Oriented Development) district downtown.  Though I know of about 40 new units in the pipeline, I can only count 2 new units actually under construction in the downtown portion of Reno’s South Virginia Street Transit Corridor (aka Midtown).

Why is Sparks so much more successful than Reno in developing their Transit Corridor?  First , they actually WANT the increased units and density.  They have published very specific guidelines detailing how to navigate the process and what they expect (Google “Sparks TOD”).  For $200, they will schedule an informal Pre-App meeting with ALL the departments that will be reviewing a project in the TOD – try that in Reno.  Second, land costs are much lower than in Midtown.  My infill projects average $8000 per door in land costs in Sparks.  My Reno infill projects have recently jumped from $40,000 to $70,000 per door.

I seriously question if Reno actually WANTS added density in the Midtown portion of the SVA Transit Corridor.  The Midtown Overlay prohibits single family residences in the Midtown Commercial District, even though that is what people want to buy or rent – the minimum district densities can be achieved with SFRs.  You can apply for a SUP (not the restaurant, Special Use Permit).  This process has a $2800 application fee, and a minimum of $10-25,000 of upfront design and consultant costs.  Take a look at the Martin 3×3 project to see what is involved just to get into the Public Process, where compromise will always be required.  And this is for a project that would be rubber stamped in Sparks and has precedence in Reno base on the Sinclair Bungalows SUP (we were fortunate that we were already in Contract Documents and had a lot of the submittal collateral already produced.  On top of the review fee, the process resulted in $5000 in additional design fees for the submittal, $8000 additional design fees to make the changes required by Planning and the Planning Commission, and about $28,000 in additional construction costs.  We got off lucky).  If Sparks sees a flaw in their Planning Code, they change the code.  Reno is content to retard development where they specifically say the WANT development by requiring serial and costly SUPs instead of revising their codes.  They cost just get passed on to the buyers and renters in the long run.

Enough ranting.  The lower land cost and greater openness to infill development is leading to new workforce housing actually being constructed in Sparks.  Not all of it is pretty enough for Midtown, but it is shiny and clean and fulfills a hugely under-served segment of the market.  The lead image above is 1701 H Street and a twin is under construction at 2238 Prater Way.  These are entry level rental 1 bedroom units in an 8-plex configuration, 502 – 520 SF each.  1250 Sullivan Lane will add another 32 rental units to the TOD.  A funny aside, when this project first posted its Public Notice, the neighbors turned out in force to oppose it because they thought it was “Transient Oriented Development”!

If I had to lay down a bet on the next Midtown, Victorian Square is it.  The E 4th Street Transit Corridor improvements will be completed in 2016.  The SVA Transit Corridor improvements is currently an RTC 2018 project, but the design is far from fixed (how can it NOT have bike lanes?).  Sparks trumps Reno once again.