Land for the masses

A generous donation of prime real estate helps preserve a neighborhood’s quality of life

LeRoy Pendleton looks over the 12 acres he donated to the Nevada Land Conservancy in dedication to his wife.

LeRoy Pendleton looks over the 12 acres he donated to the Nevada Land Conservancy in dedication to his wife.

Photo By David Robert

Philanthropists, at least the type who give valuable land donations, are supposed to live in giant homes with volcano-powered cappuccino machines and laser-operated toothbrushes. However, if you follow Skyline Drive southwest to Cashill Boulevard and then to San Mateo Avenue, you’ll come across the modest, single-story home of LeRoy Pendleton. If you look off to the left, you’ll see the 11.66-acre gorge, seasonal stream and cottonwood grove he used to own.

From his beautifully xeriscaped front yard, Pendleton looks out over what could have been 12 acres of the hottest real estate in town. He recently donated the land to the Nevada Land Conservancy, which, in its turn, is expected to deed the land over to the city of Reno to be kept as green space forever. The precise value of the acreage is unknown. It hasn’t been appraised since Pendleton bought it—it has a taxable value of $43,680—although Sonya Hem, deputy director of NLC, characterized it as “priceless.” She said, “Just imagine what 12 acres in the best area of town is worth.”

The land will be dedicated to Joyce Pendleton, LeRoy’s wife of 49 years, who died last year. A dedication ceremony, which will include a boulder with a brass plaque and bench, is expected in coming months, after legal details are finalized between the Nevada Land Conservancy and the city of Reno. The memorial will be located across San Mateo from Pendleton’s house.

The couple originally purchased the land 18 years ago from Reno Properties. When Reno Properties offered to sell him the land for only $20,000, Pendleton took swift action.

“I said, ‘Hold on, I’ll be there with the check,'” he said. “In a sense, I didn’t buy it; I stole it.”

While Pendleton could have traded his little slice of nature for a good chunk of change, he and his late wife never intended to make money off it.

“The wife and I never thought of it as an investment,” he said. “We bought it for the view.”

Neighbors, who fretted about the crowding and loss of view that would take place if Pendleton ever sold his land, have expressed relief and gratitude at the generous gift.

Jerry Polaha, a district judge and neighbor to Pendleton, said word of the donation was good news.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s a little greenbelt.”

He’s glad developers can’t move across the street. “I’ve learned … that you don’t buy next to an empty lot,” he said, noting that developers near his previous home bombarded his house with the sounds of power saws for three years.

Pendleton and his wife have a history of sharing this land with the public. In 1997, they granted the city of Reno permission to improve Steamboat Ditch Trail, which meanders through the property.

A short walk down the trail reveals the greenish irrigation ditch, cattails, saw grass and several cottonwood trees more than 50 feet tall. A little farther down the trail, the chorus of bird song and cricket chirping becomes intense where the path crosses over the stream.

Pendleton has seen porcupines, Cooper’s hawks, quail and young coyotes on this portion of the Steamboat Ditch.

Nearby residents use the Steamboat Ditch trail for recreation and exercise.

“If you look down there, there’ll almost always be somebody walking their dog or something,” Pendleton said.

Pendleton’s donation will preserve the trail, the ditch and the cottonwood grove—free from two-story Spanish Revivals or condos.

“I didn’t want (the land) to end up in the hands of an individual who’d sell it to a developer,” Pendleton said. “I’m happy it’ll never be developed.”

The NLC’s Hem said that land donations, even relatively small ones, in developed areas like southwest Reno, are important for keeping the city beautiful.

"[Pendleton’s donation] is small but nothing to sneeze at considering the location,” she said.

Jessica Jones, associate planner for the city of Reno, said that land donations like Pendleton’s are necessary for the city to connect its parks and trails. Creating a city-wide system of trails, bikeways and paths can’t occur without private help, she said.

The open-spaces plan, which the Reno City Council is expected to vote on in coming weeks, stretches from Silver Lake in the north to well beyond the Virginia City Foothills in the south, Jones said.

Because Pendleton’s property is in the center of the project and in the middle of a good-sized population center, it will be especially vital both for connecting the city core to the outlaying areas, and for connecting Reno’s various parks and trails.

Jones said one part of the city’s strategy is to encourage private land owners to sell, loan or donate their land for green space.

Pendleton said he hopes his donation will create a ripple effect throughout Reno.

“Maybe [my donation] will inspire other people with land to donate,” he said.