Answered prayer

Photo By DENNIS MYERS Students cross Lander Street from Billinghurst Park back to Our Lady of the Snows School. This crosswalk is located at the center of the one-block section of Lander that the school wants to take over from the city.

Folks in the beautiful neighborhoods between Plumas, Arlington, California and Mt. Rose streets have often had a tense relationship with the city. A proposal to widen Plumas Street sparked a fierce battle in 1992 that resulted in a threatened recall campaign. When Billinghurst school was demolished, many residents wanted a park—there is no park in the neighborhood—but city officials decided to create soccer fields for citywide leagues instead.

But last week residents caught a break from the city.

The Reno City Council rejected an attempt by Our Lady of Snows Parochial School to take title to half of a one-block stretch of Lander Street that adjoins the school on the east side, a prelude to eventually taking over the entire parcel.

The Council not only refused to “abandon” the street to the school, but urged the school—which is adjacent to Our Lady of the Snows Church—to take better care of its relations with residents of the neighborhood.

The parish of Snows, as it is informally known, was created in 1938. The school opened on Sept. 4, 1951. For many years, it existed harmoniously with the neighborhood. But some residents say they were exasperated that the school never capped the number of students it serves to live within its land. Instead, they say, school administrators kept relying on the city to solve its expansion problems. Rather than using undeveloped portions of the school property for parking or playgrounds, the school built on that vacant land and then arranged with the city to have vertical parking on Lander to increase the number of parking spaces and rented a portion of the Billinghurst parcel for playground space, necessitating children crossing the street.

While some residents raised traffic as a reason for their opposition, traffic studies by the school indicate those are not really serious, with only about a hundred cars crossing the block each day and only 31 during rush hour. No figure was given for start and end of school days, when parents drop off or pick up children.What seems to bother residents more is that the school’s expansion could change the character of the neighborhood from homey and residential to institutional and erode its appeal, a concern that also motivated the Plumas Street widening opposition.

Resident Harold Lucas, whose son went to Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, testified at the City Council meeting. He pointed out that when Manogue High outgrew its facilities in north Reno, it moved to larger quarters at a different location. He called on Snows to do the same.

“This issue keeps coming up,” Lucas said. “It’s bothering our neighborhood. We need to just all step back and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’ve been imposed upon by the church and the school long enough. The only solution is the school has to move. It’s in a spot of land area that’s too small for the school.”

Lance Van Lydegraf, who both lives and works in the neighborhood, said school parents have not been good drivers.

“I observe, as a matter of fact, that it’s the parents of the students who cause the traffic hazards in their method of drop-off and pick-up of their children and not other members of the public.”

Some residents said they were unhappy that there was no comprehensive planning as part of the abandonment process. Others said they purchased homes as part of retirement planning, and they believed closure of the street would undercut the value of their homes. Some, including parents and students from nearby Mt. Rose School, objected to the 48 parking spaces that now exist on the one-block section of Lander being pushed out into the neighborhood. One person brought a petition with 152 signatures of people who opposed the abandonment of the street. Another made an acid comment about the tax benefits the church already gets from the public. (Nevada Revised Statute 361.125 exempts religious property from taxation.)

But the school also had its defenders, some of them school parents, some residents, some both. They tended to emphasize child safety.

“These kids are 40 pound, 90 pounds, and here I am in a 2,000-pound vehicle, and I got rear-ended [at the school],” said Ron Frediani. “And that’s why I’m here, is because I was really concerned about what could happen to a child on that street.”

“It’s not a matter of if it will happen at our school, it’s a matter of when,” said Ed Wetta.

“All we ask is for the same consideration as every other school child in the state of Nevada, we just want our children to be safe,” said Stacy McGinness.

In response to questions by City Councilmember Dave Aiazzi, Snows representatives said that even if the abandonment took place, drop-off and pick-up of the children would not be moved onto the presumably safer, closed environs of the Lander parcel. It would still take place on Walker or Monroe, streets running east/west that cross Lander, which runs north/south. The main church entrance faces Walker Avenue, and the main school entrance faces Lander.

There was a lot of confusion about various aspects of the abandonment, including when the conditions would be met. In addition, Councilmember Dan Gustin was concerned about another kind of vagueness. He said things were not spelled out well on paper. There was too much use, he said, of phrases like “We’d like to” and “Maybe we could.”

Moreover, with some of the conditions, the school was essentially volunteering to do things the city can do itself. These included adding more vertical parking stripes to the east end of the Billinghurst parcel.

“If we can add more parking over there, we can do it,” said Aiazzi.

A videotape used in the traffic study probably didn’t help the school’s case. A portion showed an SUV parked at the school backing out in the path of an oncoming car, hesitating when it caught sight of the car, but then continuing to back out.

Gustin—whose district includes the school—said he did not believe the school had prepared the ground for the change it was seeking. He spoke of “angst” in the neighborhood.

“I can’t support an abandonment,” he said. “I think that situation is, at best, premature. … There’s more good will that you need to do.”

But he also told residents they might not like what they got if the school moved because the school site is zoned “multi-family,” which would allow the construction of about 80 housing units.

“Sometimes working with what you have may be better than something you don’t know,” Gustin said. He urged Snows and the residents to engage in more dialogue.

Mayor Bob Cashell insisted that the school go ahead and “immediately” meet the conditions even without approval of the abandonment, as a way of improving its relations with the neighborhood. Taken by surprise, the school’s representatives said it would take some time to do things like paint striping on streets. Cashell seemed to want it done by dinnertime.

Besides, the conditions were offered by the school as incentive for approval of the abandonment. Without the abandonment, fulfilling the conditions anyway “takes away some of their negotiating power,” Councilmember Dwight Dortch said.

The Council voted to close the street during school hours, which is actually the situation that already exists. School-hour closure had been suspended during the traffic study but will be reinstated now. There was a suggestion that parents be educated on pick-up and drop-off procedures.

Councilmembers Jessica Sferrazza and Dwight Dortch went along on the vote but made it clear they preferred to approve the abandonment of the street.

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.