Campus wins homes battle
The Reno City Council gave the University of Nevada, Reno campus what it wanted last week, signing off on a master plan change that allows UNR to do what it wishes with a lineup of 19th century homes off the campus. The council might have liked to do otherwise—it did cancel transfer of a park to the campus—but both citizens and councilmembers themselves pointed out that the council had helped create the problem by interfering in university affairs when the campus was planning to expand to the east. The council wanted the campus to start moving downtown, to the south.
An afternoon session of the council began when the UNR dispute was scheduled to be heard, but the council was running behind and first heard discussion of a labor-business compromise that settled an issue of licensing of plumbers and electricians.
There was little of that kind of cooperative spirit on the campus item. UNR President Marc Johnson used soft words like “working together” but gave not an inch on the issue of constructing a new business building on the site now occupied by a lineup of Queen Anne homes on the west side of Center Street—directly across the street from two campus-owned vacant lots.
“What we can say is that we do need to, right away, identify a location for a business building so that we can begin raising funds for that,” he said.
Several weeks ago, the Reno City Council delayed action on the master plan and told the campus and historic preservationists to meet and try to work out an agreement.
Reno Historic Resources Commission chair Alicia Barber told the council last week, “You charged the HRC and UNR with showing you how this collaboration could work.”
She quoted Johnson at that earlier meeting telling the council, “We are committed to work with the HRC and start from scratch. We haven’t got the building built yet or designed. We will continue that discussion and find some good alternatives before we finalize the design.”
But Barber said the campus did not start from scratch and barely participated in two meetings held since the council put the two groups together. She called the two meetings “very disappointing.”
At the first meeting, she said, “One of the university planning consultants was in attendance but did not participate at all in the conversation. The university did not even provide a map or engage in a discussion of how the historic houses could be incorporated into their plan. … They heard us out. They reiterated their position.”
At the second meeting, this one open to the public, she said, “They did not come prepared with a presentation or statement. They did not present their current plans for the business building and gateway, which I’m pretty sure are completed. They did not show any renderings. They did not even bring an architectural planning consultant with them. Instead President Johnson informed us again that their new College of Business building would be sited on the west side of Center Street.”
She reminded the council that Johnson had promised to provide the alternatives to the council. “I don’t think you have seen any alternatives, and I certainly have not seen any alternatives.”
Johnson said, “I would characterize our conversations a bit differently than they have been portrayed to you. We have come together on several occasions. … But we have also expressed our interest that in the next 20 years, about the only direction the university can grow with academic buildings is to densify the region south of the campus. …
“We’ve also made it clear that we cannot today tell you exactly what the building construction plan will look like in this area … because we don’t know how the community is going to develop south of the highway. We don’t know the exact developments of the university itself over the next 20 years. We can’t tell you exactly what will go in the next two or three buildings in the gateway area. … So we will say we hope that you will adopt the general master plan of the university into the city. We commit to continuing to work on options for the preservation of historic resources, these historic homes. We don’t know that they necessarily have to stay in the locations that they are, and we will work on some options in that regard. … The growth of the university is going to be rapid and large, and it’s going to be very important to the future of this community.”
Businesspeople were present to tell the council they support Johnson’s plans. The lineup of 19th century homes are immediately adjacent to Interstate 80, which was put through the center of Reno in the 1960s at the behest of the business community instead of north of Reno through undeveloped land.
Downtown developer Par Tolles: “If the handcuffs are not taken off of this university’s ability to grow and thrive, even when it involves some difficult decisions, we will squander what is a unique window of opportunity to enhance arguably our greatest attraction to this city. I urge you, the education council, to support the gateway expansion and send a positive message to the business community.”
Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada president Mike Kazmierski: “Your support sends a message not only to the university that you trust them to be responsible in what they’re doing but that you’re also really telling the development community that you’re going to engage in and be a part of this reinvention of our downtown.”
John Griffin of the Eldorado Casino and Associated General Contractors lobbyist Alexis Miller also supported the project. University official Heidi Gansert did not speak but recorded her support. Two homeowners in the campus neighborhoods were heard. Frankie Sue Del Papa, a former Nevada regent and UNR student body president who lives west of the campus, said the two sides should be working together as the unions and business had worked on the plumber/electrician problem.
“This is a work in progress,” Del Papa said. “It’s a partnership. … Make sure everyone’s feet are held to the fire.”
She also said the UNR-proposed shutdown of Center Street would create “real transportation problems.” She previously sat on the Nevada Transportation Board.
Michael Graham, a former UNR campus newspaper editor who lives on the east side of the campus and described himself as a UNR supporter, told the council, “And I really think if there had been public input into the project in a formal sort of way, that all of this stuff would have come up, probably in front of the neighborhood advisory board for ward five. … Knowing the university, they’ve built two or three major projects right next to where I live, and I’ve had absolutely no warning until they put up fences. And this kind of doesn’t sit well with homeowners in there.”
In the days after the meeting, Barber wondered if UNR—a state agency—is in violation of Nevada Revised Statute 383.121, which requires state agencies to cooperate with the Nevada Historic Preservation Office “in order to salvage or preserve historic evidence located on property owned or controlled by the United States, the State of Nevada or its political subdivisions.” Barber said the university has not made contact with the Preservation Office.
The City Council mandated cooperation between the campus and historic preservationists, but it is non-binding language.