When Lawrence King bought his house on F Street, nine blocks away from Victorian Square, he had a decent backyard, parking spots, and a nice view. The Victorian-style house was constructed in 1905 in a fairly quiet and quaint area near all of the activity and access to main roadways.
King and his wife planned to retire in Sparks, but it seems that the neighborhood is changing so rapidly that it isn’t what the couple thought they were buying into.
On the flip side, local government and regional planning departments feel that these changes should come as no surprise as the idea to envelop increased density and intensity to certain areas has been in the works since 2002. Back then, Sparks City Council approved the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan followed up with the approval of the Master Plan within that regional plan in 2007. In 2009, the Council made adjustments to the zoning code with design standards and limits for new development.
In recent months, King and his wife returned home after a long trip to find that a 2-story saltbox-style structure being built in his neighbor’s backyard, blocking his views. Thinking that this is a violation of code, King went to the city planning department and was told that this was completely within the homeowner’s rights.
“The neighbor next to King requested and was approved for an additional unit to be put on his parcel,” City of Sparks Planning Manager Jim Rundle says.
One of the first goals of the 2012 Truckee Meadows Regional Plan (which encompasses development in Washoe County for the next 20 years) is to minimize sprawl by redirecting development and population growth to the core of the region through promotion of infill strategies and better transit systems. In the particular neighborhood that King lives in, residents are allowed to build another unit onto an existing parcel, limited in height and design.
Rundle says that these plans have been in the works and talked about for at least 10 years now and that the city offered substantial amounts of the public input for each plan introduced.
“All of the property owners were notified of the concept workshops and we had a good amount of residents and stakeholders attend,” he remembers. He admits that initially there was some push back of the proposals, but after viewing presentations explaining the overall goals of the region- most people came to terms with how to handle projected growth.
“And then (local stakeholders) became excited about the prospect of adding onto their properties. We also talked about not adding density for the sake of density so we included limits on design,” Rundle says.
King believes that these types of neighborhoods were never designed to accommodate traffic, parking, and necessary infrastructure to handle the amount of infill that the local government entities approved, but Rundle says that King is just seeing the results of the concepts that have been in place since 2002.
“Everyone has to comply with the off-street parking standards of the zoning code,” Rundle says. “In this specific instance of the unit being built next to King’s property, the plans included off-street parking,” he adds.
“The main goal has been to provide a variety of housing types for a variety of people which helps alleviate the housing crunch that Sparks is currently experiencing. What King sees as a detriment, the three jurisdictions (Washoe County, City of Reno, and City of Sparks) sees as a success. This type of density and intensity is also happening in the City of Reno.
“These are the ways for the city councils and regional planning departments to alleviate the housing crunch,” Rundle says, and that this density and intensity within certain areas of Sparks will help create a thriving community, a synergy.
“Think back two years ago when we had a closed movie theater – no pedestrians or activity in Victorian Square. Special events have brought people and new housing developments have started to create more of a community- without people around, you won’t get interest to live here,” Rundle says. “In the new comprehensive plan that was adopted last year- a large component of people surveyed said that they didn’t want to expand the downtown area and asked to add density and intensity to these other parts of Sparks.”
Although King wants to issue a Call to Arms to get more people involved, it may be too late. Rundle reiterates that what King is experiencing is the analysis of what the three jurisdictions have decided to do together and following through on what has been discussed starting 16 years ago. Now all that is happening is part of the approved 30-year Master Plan.
“The neighborhoods were never designed for what they’re doing to it now. In my backyard I just see a gigantic 25’ wall to stare at which will probably be a rental home,” King says. “I would’ve never bought into this neighborhood had I known that this is what it would turn into,” he adds.