How to grow

Ward 2 Reno City Council candidates Sharon Zadra, left, and Vivian Freeman clashed during an Oct. 12 debate.

Ward 2 Reno City Council candidates Sharon Zadra, left, and Vivian Freeman clashed during an Oct. 12 debate.

Photo By David Robert

In Reno City Councilwoman Sharon Zadra’s four years on the Reno City Council, she’s seen the opening of a homeless services center and worked for the demolition and redevelopment of a blighted section of Reno.

That’s not enough to convince Zadra’s challenger Vivian Freeman that the councilwoman isn’t beholden to campaign contributing developers.

Freeman says she’s running for the Ward 2 Reno City Council seat because she’s worried about a lack of affordable housing and out-of-control growth. Even in a slowing housing market, Reno residents see overbuilding—bulldozers digging up hillsides while hundreds of houses remain unsold in the city.

“There’s a price to growth,” Freeman says. “We want our children to live well and to have jobs, and so growth is a fact of life. But it needs to be controlled and planned. Too much is being controlled by developers.”

Freeman is concerned that amendments to the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan will allow Reno to annex the Winnemucca Ranch area west of Pyramid Lake—and build 8,000 homes there, leading to additional sprawl.

“It’s leapfrog development,” she says. “The regional plan calls for contiguous development, and it’s 30 miles north of Reno. How close is that?”

Freeman pledges to listen to constituents. At government meetings, Freeman observes, residents who speak on an issue are given the requisite few minutes at the microphone.

“You get up, you’re allowed to be on the record and make your thoughts known,” she says. “But there’s a sense that the decisions have already been made. Nobody’s really listening.”

Freeman served as a Nevada state legislator for 16 years. As a state lawmaker, she served on the government affairs committee—which gave her insights into the nuts and bolts of city government, she says. Her legislative victories included working on the county’s regional plan and finagling curbside recycling.

Zadra, owner of a marketing firm, is proud of her Council record. For decades, Reno lawmakers had been talking about a homeless services center.

“We finally made that happen,” Zadra says. If she’d had her druthers, Zadra says, she would have begun by building a center for women and children. But a court action forced the city to build the men’s center first. Zadra’s hopeful that a center for women and children will soon follow.

“We’re halfway to having the money together to address the women’s piece in less than four years,” she says. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

Zadra says she’s working to comply with the regional plan’s call to pursue in-fill development, attracting new businesses and residential opportunities to locate within the McCarran loop. That’s a challenge.

“The property in that area is much more expensive because in many cases you have to purchase buildings already there,” she says. “We need to give developers incentives to work within those expensive areas.”

For example, Zadra has interested a developer in helping to create a new model for urban communities on the former Mark Twain Motel property near Plumb Lane and Virginia Street. The community would feature housing, businesses and recreation within a short walk. For longer trips, the community would be served by the Regional Transportation Commis-sion’s planned high-speed transit.

“The idea is, get people living a livable, walkable life rather than single person in single car driving across town to take care of their business,” she says.

Freeman has been a thorn to developers before. In the closing days of the 1999 Nevada Legislature, there was a last minute attempt to ram through a “design-build” measure to allow bids on large projects before they are actually designed, a practice that had led to huge cost overruns on the construction of the National Bowling Stadium. Freeman, then a state legislator, and the Washoe County Commission worked together to stop the bill, which was supported by the Reno City Council and Associated General Contractors.

By the same token, Zadra is regarded as a friend to developers. During an Oct. 12 debate, a contingent of Carpenter’s Union members cheered her statements.