The Reno News & Review sent questions to Paddy Egan, the developer of the 700 Riverside Drive apartments’ project. A hearing officer is scheduled to hear four appeals against the project's building permit on May 4. Questions relating to the issues raised in those appeals and Egan's responses are published in full, below, with minimal editing for clarity and newspaper style.
Q: Why did you decide not to build the same size of project (called Ponte Vecchio) that was approved by City Council in 2006? It sounds like that one had the general support of the neighborhood.
A: The Ponte Vecchio project was an entirely different concept with a different product, tenant type and developer. The scale of that building (being more dense and actually taller than our current project throughout) was not conducive to our concept. From a visual standpoint, it didn’t quite fit the textures or flow of the neighborhood the way that we would like to see. Much of our building is only one- and three-stories tall and steps back gradually from the Truckee River. We felt that we could design and build something with a more measured and blended aesthetic. This design offered us the ability to do a partial “green roof” concept with trees and vines on many of the roofs and terraces.
Q: A lot of the concern seems to be about your plan to construct your building all the way across Washington Street, rather than just using the street for angled parking, as the Ponte Vecchio planned to do. What would you say to people who think that you should only use the street for the reasons that were specifically approved by the Reno City Council?
A: The Ponte Vecchio project and all of its entitlements and privileges expired and became void when we took ownership of the property. We purchased a developable piece of land that was only entitled to what general city code for the area allowed. This property included Washington Street between Jones Street and Riverside Drive. That is what we had to base our analysis upon.
The entitlements previously negotiated and held with the previous project included more than I think most people realize. The park was to become “Ponte Vecchio Plaza” and offer seating and service areas for the project’s restaurants. The entire northern end of the park along Jones Street was to be eliminated and turned into an additional angled-parking area for customers. There was much more to it than just Washington Street that you see us utilizing. However, we didn’t retain any of the rights or permissions to do any of these things. I’m not sure that many of the neighbors would have wanted to see many of those previously planned park changes materialize. The city has erected two monuments in the park since then. We had to start with a clean slate on a property that no longer had entitlement commitments in either direction — from the city or the property owner. All of those were stripped from the property 10 years ago.
Q: The Historic Reno Preservation Society has said that “we urge the developers to amend their plans, designing a building that will complement the surrounding neighborhood rather than compete with it.” Any possibility of that?
A: We greatly appreciate the work that the Historic Reno Preservation Society has done to date and continues to do. We have also made great efforts to preserve both this historic area (with the Hub, Beaujolais and others) and other areas around the city even before they were identified as historic. I think we share many of the same values and goals.
We do not intend for the building to compete with the surrounding areas. In fact, we think our terraced aesthetic will complement it quite nicely. This is why we did not go anywhere near the (75-foot) maximum allowable building height or density allowed by code. We included building textures that fit in well with the surrounding area, such as brick and wood, and have tried to take a sensitive and respectful approach to the overall design. We realize that not everyone is going to like our building, but we have certainly tried to keep the building’s design away from something that people would feel like it doesn’t belong. We also developed and own the properties directly adjacent to the west of the project, and it is crucial that this new phase of the development complement those tenants rather than compete with them.
Q: Some critics say that your building, as planned, is not compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood. The critique doesn’t seem to be about the architecture, so what do you think they mean by that? Have you spoken with anyone who worked on getting the neighborhood designated a historic district to understand their concerns?
A: I have spoken with a number of these folks on issues related to this and other historic areas of town, both recently and over the years. I appreciate and respect each of their opinions, as I believe that a lot of us share many of the same objectives and values with regard to preservation. We were working to improve this neighborhood (Powning District) long before it was designated as historic. But I think at a certain point “compatibility” and appropriateness start to become a matter of opinion. It would be pretty easy to point out other properties that have existed in the neighborhood for decades that just don’t seem to belong, and for different reasons.
While I am a big advocate of preservation, I think it’s also important to make improvements and adaptations that are representative of society and culture today. We are not historians, but we do respect the history of these areas and their buildings, and I think that all of our previous work speaks to this. We have improved and adapted more than 20 historic properties in the Reno area now, and have built new construction within them as well. We have done so in hopes of preserving Reno’s unique identity as a city, while adding a fun and relevant spin that resonates with people and reactivates these historic places.
We realize that there are some concerns about our project and its compatibility, but there has also been a tremendous amount of support and excitement for what we have planned. I think that when the project is complete, the neighborhood will enjoy the property and can be proud of it.
Q: According to Reno City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr, the city’s arborist was planning to relocate some of the trees that have already been cut down. What happened there? Was a decision made to fell the trees anyhow or was it a communications issue?
A: Earlier in the project, we hired an arborist at the request of councilwoman Duerr in order to see what could be done to save as many trees as possible. Although we weren’t required to do so, we were all for this idea and didn’t want to lose any trees that we didn’t absolutely have to lose. The arborist’s report outlined that the probability of survival for the 2 trees that you are referring to (if moved) would be very low (less than 30%). Based upon the arborist’s assessment and after communicating this information to the City’s own arborist and city staff, we decided and communicated that rather than take a low-probability gamble at a high cost, we would instead plant 12 new trees in the neighborhood (in consideration for the loss of these 2 trees). This would be in addition to the 21 new trees on- site that we have planned (not including rooftops). We thought that because the goal was to increase the tree canopy in downtown, losing two trees but adding 12 would seem a bit of silver lining.
Q: The city says that “there is no requirement to pause construction on an issued permit, work is “at risk” for the developer if the permit approval is ultimately overturned.” Do you think it’s a risk to proceed while the appeals are in process?
A: Obviously there remains a possibility of our permit being overturned. However, after working with city staff through six rounds of plan and building reviews over 11 months, we are confident that they have properly analyzed and made determinations on every aspect of our plans correctly (and subsequently we were issued the permit). The city planning and development staff has been very professional all the way through, and their job hasn’t been easy.
Q: Will the development have to do construction work (and perhaps eliminate more trees) at the Lundsford Park in order to do utility work for the apartment building?
A: The utility work being done in the park (for the City storm drain) requires trenching. I don’t foresee the loss of additional trees, but ultimately our arborist will make that determination based upon what (if any) roots would be disrupted.