Public meeting lawsuit challenges city’s 2019 repeal of shadow ordinance

The controversial repeal of the City of Reno’s former shadow ordinance is now the subject of a pending court ruling by Washoe District Judge Scott Freeman. This Is Reno reported on a city ordinance change that relaxed requirements for high-rise buildings in downtown Reno.

The plaintiffs sued the city to challenge the manner in which the Reno City Council revoked the ordinance. The repeal, by removing the requirement for a special purpose permit, helped pave the way for the construction of a huge luxury hotel tower on the downtown Truckee River and next to the Cathedral Church of the Trinity.

The plaintiffs are the church and other neighboring landowners opposed to the project.

“We hope the special use process remains in place,” Lynne Charlat of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Church said in 2019. “We are not against the development; we are against the density of the proposed development.

District Court Judge Scott Freeman, top left, held a hearing Aug. 16, 2022, in a case alleging violations of the open meeting law in the city of Reno. City attorney Jonathan Shipman is lower left; plaintiffs’ attorney, Kerry Doyle, is at bottom right.

The shadow from the development would impact the temperature of the church’s sidewalks, causing them to freeze in the winter, she explained. Parking problems will increase.

Plaintiffs say the council’s repeal of the ordinance was conducted without proper public participation — in violation of Nevada’s open meeting law — and with the pre-arranged inclusion of the developer’s lobbyist by the mayor of Reno, Hillary Schieve, in a board meeting although he was not on the agenda or signed up for public comment.

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The plaintiffs said the developer’s attorney, Garrett Gordon, was extended to testify in support of the developer’s downtown hotel project.

“It is undisputed that the city knew it intended to repeal the shade ordinance. If you even look… [developer attorney] In Garrett Gordon’s presentation to City Council, he talks about talking to staff about the fact that they were going to repeal the shadow ordinance before it was even proposed,’ plaintiffs’ attorney Kerry Doyle said. , yesterday in court.

“The mayor knew that…this development was coming and wanted to at least address the concerns expressed in the public comments – and clarify and possibly ensure that this was not left out of the equation.”
– Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Shipman

The tower, called Kimpton Hotel, will feature four restaurants and bars, an outdoor pool, spa, fitness center and approximately 16,000 square feet for meetings and events. It is planned to have 20 floors and will have 270 rooms and 50 residences. The project is from Las Vegas developer CAI Investments, which is also renovating Harrah’s former property downtown and recently purchased the Cabela’s west of Reno.

City officials in 2019 denied a correlation between the ordinance changes and CAI Investments. But council members said the church was using the ordinance as a form of NIMBY-ism to prevent construction of Kimpton and other potential downtown skyscrapers.

Council members Naomi Duerr and Jenny Brekhus voted against the changes to the ordinance. Council member Devon Reese lobbied to relax the ordinance’s requirements.

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A complaint under the Open Meetings Act was filed with the Nevada Attorney General at the December 2019 council meeting. agenda during its discussion and therefore did not violate the OML in this case”.

The GA, however, recommended that the board “consider adding additional detail to future agenda items of significant public interest, such as this, to provide more clarity to the public about what will be discussed and to avoid the Board being held up during the meeting. of what they can discuss.

Plaintiffs are asking Judge Freeman to rule that the city violated the Open Meetings Act.

Trinity Cathedral Church is among the plaintiffs who have sued the city to challenge the way the Reno City Council repealed the city's shadow ordinance.  Image: Bob Conrad / THIS IS RENO, August 16, 2022.
Trinity Cathedral Church is among the plaintiffs who sued the city to challenge the way the Reno City Council repealed the city’s shadow ordinance in 2019. Image: Bob Conrad/ THIS IS RENO, August 16, 2022.

“They knew they wanted to get rid of the protection from tall buildings downtown because that’s what a shade ordinance is…” she added. “They knew they wanted to get rid of it.”

Doyle also said the notice of meeting was not clear or complete under the requirements of Nevada’s open meeting law.

“This agenda item should have indicated that we are trying to get rid of this for this reason,” she explained. “It’s not good enough for an agenda item that affects a large region, and that if the language had been clearer about what they knew they intended to do, you would have… saw more people at this first planning commission meeting [and] more people at this first meeting of the municipal council.

City attorney Jonathan Shipman accused the plaintiffs of finding fault with the meeting after they failed to achieve the desired outcome.

“It was not a done deal at all,” he said. “It was…a matter that was out there, and it was debated publicly…in the planning commission, and then later in the city council – vigorously….”

Judge Freeman questioned Shipman.

“If that’s the case, why call Garrett Gordon [who] represents the developer? ” He asked. “Is he suddenly a legislative expert on legislative ordinances? ”

Shipman argued that the city can appeal to whomever it wants in a public hearing, and that wouldn’t necessarily have been the case during public comment.

Design of the Kimpton Hotel.  Press photo.
Design of the Kimpton Hotel. Press photo.

“It was at the discretion of the city council to resolve this issue,” he said. “Now it’s very common that when issues are raised in public comments, they turn into questions to staff, questions to subject matter experts, questions to lobbyists, and that’s what I think we have here.”

He admitted that Schieve asked Gordon to make sure the developer’s perspective was included in the filing. Schieve’s ties to developers, in particular developer lobbyist Jessica Sfrerrazza, are disclosed at most board meetings.

“The mayor knew that…this development was coming and wanted to at least address the concerns expressed in the public comments and clarify and possibly make sure it wasn’t left out of the equation,” Shipman said. “But I also think what you saw there was very important, councilman Reese, he brought it back into [because] he understood that it was not about this particular project per se.

“They were looking at a policy change for the whole city, and they didn’t want it to get into the weeds on [the Kimpton] project.”

Doyle retaliated and accused Shipman of misleading Freeman.

“There has never been a proposed change to the shade ordinance for any other section of the city,” she said. “It was always proposed as a change to the downtown regional overlay district.”

If the owners win their case, the city will have to reconvene the meeting and reconsider the changes made to the ordinance.

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