Concerns over neighborhood noise and public safety did not stop Douglas County planning commissioners from supporting an 800-seat outdoor events center behind the parking lot of Carson Valley Inn in Minden.
On Tuesday, planning commissioners voted unanimously to approve a major modification to the casino's existing special use permit, issued in 1983, that will allow construction of a 12,000-square-foot "open-air" facility with rest rooms, eating and storage areas, a green room and stage.
"My concern is the noise," said Denise Uber, who lives on East Minden Village Loop, approximately 1,300 feet west of the proposed center. "What are the conditions for noise levels in the special use permit? I don't want to be the one calling the sheriff's office to say I got a problem."
Les Hodgson who lives in historic Minden, about 700 feet south of the site, worried the application lacked a specific plan for noise enforcement.
"It seems very vague," he said. "It's not just going to be today, but 20 years from now."
County planner Dirk Goering argued that noise monitoring is a technical science for which the county does not have the proper resources. A $25 noise meter from Radio Shack will not hold up in court, he said.
"Douglas County does not have the equipment nor the expertise," he said.
However, one of 31 conditions of approval for the project states that the applicant, Mike Pegram of G Peg II, must monitor noise produced by the events.
"If substantiated problems arise and are considered unreasonable for the approved uses, which include but are not limited to weddings, concerts and other special events, the community development departments will furnish a warning letter to the applicant citing concerns and necessary mitigation measures," the provision reads.
If problems persist, the community development director can submit a status report to the planning commission, which has the authority to impose additional conditions on the special use permit.
"We wanted the ability to bring it back before the planning commission if there is an issue," Goering said.
Planning commissioner Kevin Servatius, a former casino executive with experience in entertainment venues, said the open amphitheater would no doubt generate noise.
"The reality is that it's going to be loud," he said. "I think we need to be respectful of the neighbors, and I am confident that CVI will be."
Another condition states that the events center may operate 8 a.m.-11 p.m. for small events with less than 400 people, and 8 a.m.-10 p.m. for large events with more than 400 people.
Planning commissioner JoEtta Brown asked if something could be done architecturally to mitigate noise.
Mark Rotter of Manhard Consulting said the applicant is considering different types of material and sound equipment.
"The fact is, though, that it's an open center, and noise will be escaping," Rotter said. "We feel like the times (set hours of operation) are the key."
Other conditions on the special use permit include evidence of a flood map revision for portions of the property that lie in the Martin Slough flood plain.
Rotter confirmed that the applicant had already submitted a letter of map revision to FEMA, and also had procured a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers allowing work in the wetlands area.
Public safety in and around the events center was a concern for planning commissioners as well. For large events, CVI has to submit a security plan to the sheriff's office, detailing the type of event and number of participants, and has to provide private or public security at their own expense.
Servatius said that loose seating, portable chairs and tables, could be dangerous in strong winds and in violent situations.
"We (Harvey's Casino) found that portable seating with larger venues can cause serious problems when fights break out," he said.
Rotter said CVI wanted loose seating to facilitate weddings, barbecues and other non-concert events. He expressed confidence that the company could handle security issues.
"They had over 2,000 people for their New Year's Eve party," he said. "They're used to dealing with large crowds."
Despite concerns over safety and noise, planning commissioners generally were enthusiastic about the project.
"CVI is to be commended on looking forward and bringing more tourism dollars into the community," said planning commissioner Don Miner. "This is a good start."