Why? Simple. If the Sparks master plan and its policies and guidelines were carefully followed, the land use change Thompson was promoting would fail miserably.
In fairness to Thompson, he is in an awkward position. After having carefully reviewed his remarks, it is clear his heart was not in what he was saying. Someone much higher in the Sparks government food chain was putting heat on the planning staff to ramrod the change through — master plan be damned.
The Sparks master plan is actually a remarkably well-thought-out document. It is designed to represent the long-term goals of the citizens of Sparks and how they want to see the city develop.
In fact, an entire section of the document is a series of professionally conducted surveys of citizens of Sparks and their answers form the basis, the foundation, for the decision making process, and growth patterns for the city.
The desires of Sparks citizens were coupled with designs created through an additional series of meetings, workshops and public hearings with engineers, developers, school district officials, traffic planners, sewer water and storm drainage experts, electric and gas officials, Washoe County officials, BLM representatives, land owners and just about everyone else the city could find who had an input on how Sparks’ future should evolve.
It was a monumental task, and the synthesis is a notably thorough piece of work. Instead of the helter-skelter patchwork of the past, which changed with anyone’s whim, the master plan became the growth bible for Sparks. Growth now had policies and a blueprint the whole city agreed to follow.
And follow the plan it did. The whole Wingfield area has in fact been built with only very minor adjustments, in almost perfect accord to the original master plan. A review of the original design, the housing densities, the commercial nodes, the open spaces, the pathways and parks are consistent, a tribute to both the designs and the willingness of the city staff to insist development and developers stay within its parameters.
(The only major monkey wrench thrown in has been the failure of the traffic designs and road networks to keep pace, but that is fodder for a future column.)
In theory, all developers are equal, but the truth is some are more equal than others. Two huge violations of the master plan are, not surprisingly, both the work of the same developer, Harvey Whittemore.
In case you’re new to Sparks, Whittemore successfully forced into the Spanish Springs area — and in an area never designed for one on the master plan — a casino, the “Lazy 8.” Despite the casino being voted down by both the Sparks City Council and the Sparks Planning Commission, Whittemore successfully bullied his way through by threatening the city with a $100 million lawsuit.
The cowering Sparks City Attorney’s office had closed-door meetings with the City Council and, without a public hearing, the City Council reversed themselves. Whittemore won his case by default.
Fortunately, John Ascuaga’s Nugget took the whole case to court. The master plan and the failure of the Lazy 8 to comply is a major basis of their suit. The case is pending.
But back to Thompson. Why the rather coerced-sounding dismissal of the policies and checks and balances of the master plan? Well, it is none other than Harvey Whittemore who is trying to once again force a grotesquely non-compliant project into existence. The proposed 60-acre monstrosity will sit in the dead center of the brand new $25 million regional park and could have up to 1,300 “multi-family dwellings” on land the master plan has zoned for a maximum density of only two houses per acre.
Fortunately the whole thing has tipped over a beehive of neighborhood opposition in Wingfield with residents already mad about overcrowded schools and roads and with declining property values to boot. They are in a fightin’ mood.
So, it boils down to Harvey Whittemore and the kowtowing city staff vs. the citizens of Wingfield and the master plan. The Sparks Planning Commission meets this Thursday. I will keep you posted.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.