New rules for mixed-use commercial cater to towns

New requirements for mixed-use commercial zoning in Douglas County recently approved by Douglas County commissioners leave the roof heights at 45 feet in Minden and Gardnerville, per their requests.

Gardnerville Town Manager Jim Park said two mixed-use projects are being considered for their downtown area. In addition to the roof heights, a new 75 percent residential to 25 percent commercial ratio was approved that will help developers when they build these projects.

"We're excited. That height is what Minden and Gardnerville are all about," he said. "We're in the midst of a parking study now and we'll be bringing that back some time this year. We're on our way to making some quality projects happen."

In Genoa, the roof height was held to 35 feet but in the rest of the county, the height was raised to 50 feet. Where slopes exceed 5 percent, the roof heights have been raised to 60 feet.

Assistant Community Development Director Mimi Moss told Genoans the height requirement was part of a movement to establish vertical development.

However, both the Genoa Town Board and residents expressed serious problems with having a 45-foot tall building in town.

"I can see where 45-feet would be a real problem here," said Genoa Town Board Chairman Bill Donohoe.

Often called smart growth, a mixed-use community blends businesses, restaurants, theaters and homes all within easy walking distance.

It's a concept designed to preserve open space and reduce costs through more efficient use of infrastructure. With the reduction in infrastructure costs more affordable housing can be built, according to a report by the National Association of Home Builders.

County Manager Dan Holler said the 45-foot height can hinder multi-use development, which often uses that height to alter roof lines to create a more aesthetically-pleasing project.

"We've looked at a couple of projects," he said. "We can get by with the 45-foot height, but the roofs will have to be lopped off architecturally."

Mixed-use developments have been criticized for not integrating the different uses well.

Often the location of parking lots and buffers makes walking from one use to another unpleasant.

The key is good design and the proper language in county ordinances can encourage that design, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

"If each development must go through a complex and costly process of obtaining special waivers and approvals, developers will probably find it makes more business sense to keep building large-lot subdivisions, according to the report.

"Narrower street widths, varied yard setbacks, alternative stormwater and wastewater systems, and altered approaches to utility installation may all need to be considered to make compact development possible and successful," the report said.


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