By Scott Sonner
RENO — Facing a protracted legal battle in the midst of a housing shortage crisis, the Reno City Council approved a scaled back version of a big housing project in a flood plain Monday after the developer agreed to build 15% fewer units and bolster flood mitigation.
Council members voted 4-3 to approve the Daybreak project with 3,995 housing units on about 900 acres (360 hectares) of wetlands and former ranchland southeast of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Newport Pacific Land, the developer based in Newport, California, filed a lawsuit in February against the city seeking $50 million in damages after the council rejected its original plan last year calling for construction of 4,700 units.
A Washoe County district judge had scheduled the trial to begin Friday but gave both sides until the end of Monday to reach a compromise.
The council voted 4-3 earlier this month to give the project a second look after developers offered a plan for 4,230 units, including more townhomes and condominiums to meet concerns about a lack of mid-range housing.
The master plan approved Monday reduces the overall density by 15% to 3,995 units, invests $1.7 million more in storm water drainage and increases flood storage capacity by 25%. It also adds 355 acres (144 hectares) of open space so more than one-third of the project is dedicated to open space and provides more money for expansion of police and fire protection, as well as recreation, the developers said.
“We feel it’s a better project,” said Andy Durling, vice president of planning for the engineering firm Wood Rodgers designing the project for Newport Pacific Land.
Flooding and mercury contamination from historic mining operations were cited as key concerns when the council voted 6-1 last year against the full project on the former Butler Ranch site.
Mayor Hillary Schieve and the two councilwomen who voted against reconsideration earlier this month cast the three “no” votes again Monday.
“To me it all comes back to building in a flood plain,” said Schieve, who joined Jenny Brekhus and Naomi Duerr in the minority.
Councilman Devon Reese said he has some concerns about wildlife impacts but “there is risk associated with most things we do in life.”
“We have a shortage of housing in this community,” he said.
Councilman Oscar Delgado, who represents the ward where many neighboring residents oppose the project because of flooding and traffic concerns, said he fears if the dispute goes to court the homes still could be built but without some of the concessions the city was demanding.
“There’s an old saying in politics, if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu,” he said.
Brekhus said the approval was premature given the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to complete new flood plain maps for the area in another six months or so. She said backers were using a “false narrative that we have to approve housing because we are in a pinch.”
Duerr said the developer’s concessions underscore the reasons the council rejected the original plan and that fast-track reconsideration of the new proposal sets a bad precedent.
“I think we could have found another way to negotiate,” Duerr said. “We know it’s not if it will flood, it is when it will flood.”