Back on the table

The fight over UNR’s farm land continues

The City Council chamber was full on Jan. 30 with people waiting to hear about both the Reno Aces deal and the future of the farm land.

The City Council chamber was full on Jan. 30 with people waiting to hear about both the Reno Aces deal and the future of the farm land.

Photo By ashley hennefer

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Several locals who showed up to two City Council meetings on Jan. 30—at noon and 6 p.m.—to speak on behalf of the University of Nevada, Reno’s 104-acre plot of land were frustrated when the meeting was once again postponed.

The City Council chamber was packed at the noon meeting on Jan. 30, where the council would also discuss the Reno Aces financing deal. Mayor Bob Cashell announced postponing the land deal meeting to 6 p.m., which was then pushed back to March 27. Heidi Gansert, special assistant to University of Nevada, Reno president Marc Johnson, says the council had also requested a postponement back in December 2012 to allow new councilmembers to get up-to-date.

But the time changes were not well publicized, because when people showed up around 6 p.m., many found the doors closed.

“The 6 p.m. meeting was adjourned within 10 minutes,” says Jeff Bryant, director of Urban Roots Garden Classrooms. “Marc Johnson and the mayor didn’t even bother to show up.”

Bryant is one of several local food activists forming a group of stakeholders to keep the parcel designated for farming. He is an appellant of the planning commission’s decision to forward the plan to the City Council. Many local agriculture advocates have been active in opposing the annexation—last year, farmer Wendy Baroli of GirlFarm/Grow For Me Sustainable Farm started an online petition that gathered more than 12,000 signatures. The City Council determined an “indefinite postponement” in spring 2012, but the stakeholders hope that the March decision will finally take the issue off the table for good.

Dissent over the proposed annexation of the plot, located east of McCarran Boulevard, began in late 2011. According to UNR president Marc Johnson, annexing the land for development would help pay off university debt. A few developments have been made since then—UNR’s meat-packing facility Wolf Pack Meats, whose facility is on the land, will stay open and more than 800 acres of the total 1,000 acres of the McCarran land will remain dedicated to agriculture. But critics of the annexation argue that selling a portion of the university land is a step toward unwanted development. Many are also concerned about the land’s location in a flood zone. The land flooded during the 1997 flood, and needs to be kept permeable to accommodate heavy run-off. Gansert says the university has already agreed to follow the city ordinance.

“If you actually raise the level of a piece of land one cubic foot, then you have to dig down one cubic foot,” she says. “And at the planning commission, the university committed to at least doing one-to-one mitigation but perhaps even more.”

Those who oppose the annexation insist that the 104-acres is not just an important plot of farm land, but represents the city’s attitude toward a sustainable local food industry and its desire to strengthen UNR’s agricultural education programs. However, Gansert notes that several of the university’s plans, including the High Desert Farming Initiative and more funding for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) demonstrate just that. Not everyone is convinced.

“If you can pretend long enough there is no [agriculture], then you can ensure there will be no reason for students to come to our land grant university,” said Baroli. “The whole entire community needs to see what has really been happening as the university continues to act as a private landowner rather than ‘trustees’ of public trust lands.”