Growing out

Activists fight sprawl into areas remote from the Truckee Meadows

At a demonstration last week, protestor Susan McNeall displayed a regional planning map showing the distance between the remote Winnemucca Ranch land west of Pyramid Lake and the Reno metro area.

At a demonstration last week, protestor Susan McNeall displayed a regional planning map showing the distance between the remote Winnemucca Ranch land west of Pyramid Lake and the Reno metro area.

Photo By Dennis Myers

A small but persistent group is leading the fight against proposed development of 5,700 acres west of Pyramid Lake. It would create up to 12,000 upscale homes in an area called Winnemucca Ranch, a process that would be eased by enactment of Assembly Bill 513.

A couple of hours before a May 25 Senate vote, about 20 members of Voters for Sensible Growth held signs and called their state representatives from cell phones in front of Reno City Hall. A.B. 513 passed the Senate 15-5 a few minutes later, but protestors say they’ll fight on as the bill makes its way back to the Assembly for approval of Senate amendments to the measure.

One of the leaders of the group is Erik Holland, who moved to Reno from Alaska seven years ago and last year ran unsuccessfully for Reno mayor, in part on this issue. The biggest reason the group opposes the Winnemucca Ranch development, he said, is because it’s leapfrog sprawl, instead of building close to the city.

“First of all, I value living in a compact community,” Holland said at the rally. “I’m a painter, and I like to get out of town so I can paint, see wild country. Second of all, from a fiscal standpoint, it’s much more efficient to develop concentrically, rather than building 30 miles of new road, all kinds of new sewer pipes, all kinds of new electrical ability. Why reinvent the wheel?”

Bob Fulkerson, an environmental activist who directs the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, attended Friday’s protest. He explained the reasons the group opposes this particular bill.

“They have had different iterations of legislation to grease the skids for the Winnemucca Ranch project,” he said, estimating a half a million dollars’ worth of lobbyists on the side of the developers. “This latest [bill] says, ‘Oh, it’s just a GID bill. It’s going to help with General Improvement Districts.’ Well, baloney. What this is, is just a Trojan horse to get the city of Reno to do what they want to do all along, which is leapfrog annexation.”

Fulkerson later said this bill alone is not a major threat, but the cumulative effect of various bills is another matter.

Reno City Councilman David Aiazzi seemed to confirm Fulkerson’s claim when asked to explain the guts of AB 513.

“It allows a smaller type of government to develop out there until it’s ready to be annexed into the city. … It allows a smaller type of government, like a GID. … There are already General Improvement Districts in the state of Nevada.” He listed Sun Valley and Incline Village as examples.

For his part, Aiazzi suggested that Voters for Sensible Growth aren’t being upfront about their agenda.

“These guys aren’t opposed to the Winnemucca Ranch development; they’re opposed to it coming into the city of Reno. … Have you heard from them one time that they’re opposed to the development? No. They’re opposed to it being in the city of Reno.”

But protestors say that is, in fact, their fight—they don’t want the wilderness paved over.

Abby Fulkerson

“My grandparents used to live there when I was little, and I loved it—it’s so beautiful. And I just don’t want to see it [become] another suburb,” said Abby Fulkerson, Bob’s niece. The 19-year-old UNR student said she attended the rally in part to support her uncle and her grandfather Chuck’s opposition to Winnemucca Ranch development and housing sprawl.

“I remember it being so open,” she said. “I remember wild horses. I remember we would go, and there’s a little ranch down the street, and we could watch the wild horses run. And we could go for hikes and see their tracks. … It wasn’t city, it was open, like you were free, yet it was fairly close, but at the same time out there, and just, like, unimaginable—like blues and purples.”

From the outside, it might look like Voters for Sensible Growth stands against growth and wants to exclude newcomers to the state.

Holland disagreed. “It’s wonderful that we’re growing because we’re becoming a more cosmopolitan, interesting city. It’s how we grow, not whether we grow. I don’t want to put a fence around the state and chase everybody out of here. We can grow intelligently, and that’s not leapfrog sprawl.”

Aiazzi would not be pinned down on whether he supports the Winnemucca Ranch development or not. He discussed the development in terms of the Truckee Meadows Service Area, a boundary for municipal water and sewer lines.

“What we support is a line, that anything within this TMSA line should be within the city limits. Winnemucca Ranch is within the line. So anything within that line should be in the city limits. That’s our future growth area. That’s what we all decided. Reno, Sparks and Washoe County, and everybody said here’s the line. … Eventually, I support Winnemucca Ranch, if it gets developed.”

Aiazzi said he does not have a yes or no answer as to whether he supports the Winnemucca Ranch development and that the question is unfair until all the facts are in. “There’s no right answer. I don’t know what Winnemucca Ranch is bringing in. I don’t know what their development standards are going to be. I don’t even know what they’re going to put out there. They have not come forward with any development standards at all. So how can I say I support it or don’t support it? … I neither support it or don’t support it. I don’t know what it is. I have no opinion.”

Holland responded to Aiazzi’s statement of ignorance of the development standards. “He knows darn well what Winnemucca Ranch is about. They’ve been pushing it for a long time.”

What it comes down to, according to Voters for Sensible Growth, is a question of money.

“I think the Winnemucca Ranch stuff is happening because a developer bought the ranch and wants to develop it,” Holland said. “The city of Reno has gotten used to living off of upfront payments for new development, and I think that they basically need the money from this, and I think that we need to stop depending on that. It’s kind of like somebody keeps writing themselves credit card checks to pay the rent. You know, I think we need to get away from that, and we need to start paying our bills as we go.”

At press time this week, Holland was trying to stop the legislation by drawing the attention of state lawmakers to what he said was misleading information distributed to legislators by the city of Reno, particularly a handout that said the city would not be able to annex land “if [the] Regional Planning Commission disapproves.” That is not the case, Holland said—the City Council has found ways to work its will on the commission.

However, the chances of stopping the measure were not good—the Assembly approved it unanimously on its first vote.

Whether Holland, the Fulkersons and the others stave off this attempt to ease the way for sprawl or not, they know it’s an ongoing fight.

“Once they develop that Winnemucca Ranch, it’s gone forever. Once they cut down the old growth, it’s gone forever,” Bob Fulkerson said. “We can stop them right now on those issues, but next year, yeah, they could be back. But, you know what? It’s our watch that matters. … The next generation—it’ll be up to them. They’d better freakin’ be up to the challenge.”