Devil in the details

At one point during something like three hours of deliberations over the Locust Street abandonment, a Reno City Council member decided to lecture Shoppers Square owner Ralph Casazza.

“The community is doing you a favor by giving you their street,” said Councilman Dave Aiazzi. “It’s nothing that you’re entitled to.”

Casazza leaned forward, agitated. But he didn’t counter the assumptions of the young whippersnapper councildude.

He didn’t remind Aiazzi that the Casazza family in 1923 bought 140 acres—the Race Track Ranch—that now serves as central Reno, from South Virginia and Plumb Lane down to Kietzke Lane. Or that his dad, Anthony Casazza, donated the land for Locust Street to Washoe County a few decades ago.

Now the Casazzas want the land back, or at least the one block of Locust Street that connects Casazza Drive to Plumb Lane. All that’s left of the Casazzas’ 140-acre ranch these days is Shoppers Square and a couple of blocks of houses that the family rents out. The family wants to improve their shopping center, now home to a diverse group of small merchants selling everything from shoes to skateboards. Their plans include a slick, retro-styled McDonald’s in the place of long-defunct Bob’s Big Boy.

The shopping center expansion, specifically a bigger Marshalls store, would flop right out over Locust. Neighbors living behind the center were understandably upset. Led by feisty Dawn Polinelli, neighbors and business owners fought the street closure for the past six months. During some City Council meetings, irate neighbors packed the chambers, expressing concern over traffic flow, increased crime in the neighborhood if it gets cut off from Plumb Lane and more difficult access for police and fire services. Others worried that the Casazzas might decide to build something other than a snazzy new Marshalls.

Councilman Dave Rigdon said it sounded like people thought that the Casazzas had some dark, ulterior motive.

“We’re acting like there’s some malevolent purpose here,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.”

Of course, the City Council Tuesday unanimously approved the project with considerable debate over the details and a few concessions to placate neighbors. The expanded shopping center needs to have three stores that open out onto Casazza Drive. And Marshalls doesn’t need to be one of the three. That’s good because, according to Rick Casazza, Ralph’s son, Marshalls doesn’t want another entrance.

“We’ve talked to them about an entrance on Casazza,” he said. “To say they’re not interested is an understatement.”

This back wall of the mall needs to look good, but even after talking about it for half an hour, the details ended up a bit vague. Some council members were getting a bit tired of talking about landscaping, glazing versus faux glue-on décor and whether easements should be fixed or move around as the center plan evolves.

"We’re getting into a level of detail beyond anything we’ve ever gotten into before," Rigdon said. "All this nitty stuff is usually handled by staff."