More complete answer
February 21, 2013
EDITOR:In The R-C’s February Q&A with County Manager Steve Mokrohisky he addresses how the Walmart property got its commercial zoning. A more complete response would explain the following.In early 2009, the county entered into a settlement agreement with the owners of Virginia Ranch that made changes to the VR specific plan and county zoning regulations, without the public notice and hearings required by state law.This was contrary to the 2007 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in League of Residential Neighborhood Advocates v. City of Los Angeles, a published decision and thus precedent here. It held that a local government cannot evade requirements of state law through a settlement agreement.To the degree that the eventual Walmart approval relied on zoning changes made in the settlement agreement it was likely improper.In May 2009, the county commission rezoned the Walmart property from agriculture to general commercial/planned development. The relevant staff report made no mention of the change from “village” to big box commercial that was, in fact, the known expected result of the rezoning and that was contrary to the VR specific plan.How did the county know that big box retail was coming? A month earlier, in its article about the Gardnerville Town Board’s consideration of the rezoning, the R-C reported the applicant’s consultant’s statement that the project would involve up to 200,000 square feet of “box store.” Staff was present at that meeting, yet failed to report that information to the county commission when it considered the rezoning.The county should have processed a master plan amendment to make the change from village commercial to big box retail. It did not. I believe the village”requirement remains in the VR specific plan. Readers can judge whether Walmart qualifies.A planned development ordinance, like the one adopted by the county commission in May, 2009, should contain detailed standards and procedures to govern the future development of the site in question. But the PD ordinance for the Walmart property contained no meaningful regulations whatsoever. That left Walmart’s eventual permits subject to only a simple staff review. The term carte blanche comes to mind.So, yes,Walmart per se never came before the county commission, only a commercial rezoning. But county staff (and any commissioner who read the R-C) knew that up to 200,000 square feet of box store was coming. Staff failed to bring to the commission’s attention the conflict between that and the requirement of village commercial in the VR specific plan. And staff wrote, and the commission adopted, a PD ordinance for this site that was meaningless and left Walmart subject to only a minimal staff review.I have nothing against Walmart. It was probably inevitable here. But how this was done represents a shameful episode in county governance. Perhaps in his next Q&A Mr. Mokrohisky could explain what lessons the county has learned from it.