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Hypothetical project hits a roadblock

Talk of the Town, Heidi Scoble and Robie Wilson Litchfield

As promised in our last article, we, as hypothetical developers, presented our hypothetical project – an amusement park on the Mill Site – to Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook and Town Planner Duane Hall in what is called a pre-application meeting for a use permit.

It is recommended that all discretionary projects, those that can’t be approved over the counter, go through a series of pre-application meetings before formal submittal. Some projects may require as few as three and others, such as Gray’s Crossing, as many as six meetings prior to submittal.

For our amusement park concept, we presented a rough plan to the planning division. Though it isn’t required, it is helpful in this preliminary stage. Mr. Lashbrook and Mr. Hall listened very patiently as we described our intentions for the Mill Site.

Our program for the project included two access-egress points; one off Glenshire Drive and the other off Donner Pass Road, with an additional pedestrian access off Trout Creek. To start, we proposed a train-themed merry-go-round in the center of the balloon track. Food stands and shops, such as a saloon and tattoo parlor, a western photo studio and wax museum surrounded the merry-go-round. The balloon track itself became a circular train ride. A miner’s tunnel connected the interior of the balloon track with the eastern portion of the site, which included a shooting range, a Ferris “wagon” wheel, a log run ride in Trout Creek that culminated in an ice pond lake, another building that housed additional food, retail, an arcade, jail and a plaza. Here our beloved Railroad Regulators could live out their fantasy gunfights on a regular basis; of course, the mayor would have to be consulted about this.

Additional rides and attractions would be added as our plan developed. Parking for the public, located at the Donner Pass Road entrance, would accommodate approximately 50 percent of anticipated need – the rest we proposed to pay for with in-lieu fees as currently allowed within the downtown area. Employees would park near the Glenshire Drive access. To welcome our guests we proposed a 50-foot sign made of logs and wrought iron complete with interval flashing bulbs and neon lettering “Railroad Mountain Fun Center” – somewhat resembling the Reno arch.

After some serious head scratching, Mr. Lashbrook began to talk – it seems we had a few problems.

First of all, the site is designated the Mill Site Master Plan Area in the Downtown Specific Plan, which means the General Plan doesn’t see a use such as ours as compatible with the historical downtown – even though our concept takes off on the old days of our logging and railroad history. Instead, it calls for a mix of uses including housing, commercial, civic uses, parks and open space.

Other issues that came out of the pre-application meeting were concerns about construction and rerouting around Trout Creek, which the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Fish and Game might have some issues with. Additionally, views and access to the river might be hindered, our sign might not be within code, setbacks would have to be examined, and our proposal for 50 percent in-lieu fees for parking would probably not fly, considering the current parking challenges being experienced by the town. Additional technical checks against the FEMA flood plane maps could show other potential problems.

Essentially our plan as proposed on the Mill Site would require amendments to our General Plan (GP) and Development Code Zoning Map (DCZM) and the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP), as well as comments from a very vocal community, a tough review with the planning commission and final review and approval from the town council. It was also indicated that a full EIR would need to be prepared to determine what the environmental impacts to the site would be and if they were significant.

The EIR would be contracted out with assistance from the Planning Staff and the amendments to the GP, DCZM and DSP would likely require several public hearings prior to approval, all at our (the developer’s) expense.

Upon further discussion, it was determined that while the use might be acceptable in the end, the site was not. Mr. Hall shuffled through his development code and found not only a zoning designation for our use, which is downtown visitor lodging (DVL), but a location, the Barsell property at Interstate 80 and Donner Pass Road. This site would be a suitable site for such a use and recommended that we consider purchasing that property for our plan instead. This came with a warning from Mr. Lashbrook that “freeway oriented advertisement signage would be problematic.”

So what did we get out of this pre-application meeting?

First of all, we learned about the GP and its land use designations, the Downtown Specific Plan and its vision for development within the downtown, and lastly, the development code and corresponding maps, which outline specific zoning districts and allowed uses and standards for development within those districts.

Secondly, it is important to be ready to hear the needs and desires of the community as outlined in the General Plan, and for the Mill Site, the Downtown Specific Plan. This is essential for putting together a project proposal that fits into our community.

Through a series of pre-application meetings, and with the guidance of the development director and town planner, a project proponent is able to refine a proposal to the point that a thorough and complete application can be submitted with reasonable expectancy that acceptance will be granted. The proposal then has a much better chance of becoming a real project.

In our next article we will follow our hypothetical project through further steps in putting together an application package that will be ready to submit to the planning division.

Heidi Scoble is associate planner for Truckee, and Robie Wilson Litchfield sits on the Truckee Planning Commission. They can be reached at hscoble@townoftruckee.com.


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