2001 in review: A hectic year in Douglas | RecordCourier.com
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2001 in review: A hectic year in Douglas

by Jeff Munson, Staff Writer

An unexpected end to a high-profile murder case in January, followed by the buzz of a coffee bean processor, the ring of more slot machines and the sale of Bently Nevada to one of the world’s largest corporations, made 2001 among the most eventful years in recent memory.

Oh, and the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is coming, too.

Reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel, Douglas County became a tale of two complex interests this year with leaders confronted by issues that sometimes pitted development interests against quality of life virtues.

No murders occurred in Douglas County in 2001, but a murder case ended when defendant Thomas Robert Soria Sr. killed himself just after his trial began in January.

Soria Sr. was found dead in his jail cell Jan. 28.

Investigators said he hoarded prescription heart medication and used it to induce an overdose.

Soria Sr. was on trial for the March 2000 killing of Krystal Steadman, 9. His son, Thomas Jr., pleaded guilty for his role in the child’s death and was scheduled to testify against his father.

February brought word that the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, would leave its Carson City store and move to Douglas County.

The deal, reached Feb. 9, came after months of negotiations between county officials, property owner Red Roberts, and Wal-Mart.

The company hopes to have the 224,000-square-foot building on 22 acres opened by July 2002. The store will employ about 400 people.

The “supercenter” features a grocery store and various service-oriented businesses both inside and outside the center.

The 24-hour operation will be similar in size and scope to a store that opened in Reno earlier this year.

The move came after negotiations with Carson City had failed to produce an adequate site for a “supercenter.”

Along with the move, the company will provide more than $1 million annually in sales tax revenues that will go directly to the county.

Wal-Mart had sought to add a grocery store to its Carson City store, but was restricted because of a lease agreement with owners of the shopping center.

To handle the additional traffic, Douglas County has begun to extend Topsy Lane and put in water and sewer lines.

Other improvements slated for the area include the extension of Vista Grande Boulevard, leading north from Jacks Valley Road. Additional traffic signals and road-widening are also planned.

The area encompasses much of the county’s new development, with a future land swap planned with the Bureau of Land Management.

The corridor is home to Target, Home Depot and Staples in Douglas County and Costco across the county line in Carson City.

In March, Douglas County leaders agreed on a $79 million budget for fiscal year 2001-2002 and followed that a month later with agreements among its three employee unions.

A healthy state and local economy contributed to a 3.1 percent increase in Douglas County’s budget.

March was a contentious month for developers and open space advocates.

Douglas County commissioners denied developer Jeff Dingman’s request to allow 300 homes in a proposed upscale development in the hills above Jacks Valley.

In a 4-1 decision, commissioners sided with the recommendations of its planning commission, which requested denial of the project.

The commission argued the proposed changes don’t fit criteria set forth in the county’s master plan land use protocol.

The proposed development would occupy what is known as Schneider Ranch in Clear Creek Canyon.

The property, jointly owned by John Serpa and another investor, had been considered for preservation by the U.S. Forest Service.

Later this year, Dingman was given the go-ahead to build 91 homes on the property. This month he submitted a master plan amendment to the county to build 134 additional homes.

April brought sunshine and skateboards when the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department opened the Carson Valley Skate Park across from Lampe Park in Gardnerville.

The 24,000-square-foot facility, which cost about $350,000 to build, is the largest of its kind in Nevada. It was officially dedicated the following month.

Skating into town the last week in April was Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Co., whose officials were scouting prospective areas in northern Nevada for a new bean roasting, processing and packaging facility.

On May 8, the Douglas County Planning Commission unanimously approved a height variance Starbucks said it needed to build a silo storage facility.

With two other possible sites in contention for the plant, including Stead and Fernley, Douglas County business leaders and regional economic development officials assured the coffee giant that Douglas County would be worthy of the plant.

Some Johnson Lane residents, however, offered their own take, saying that a bean roasting plant would pollute the Carson Valley with smoke emissions during the bean roasting process.

On June 15, Starbucks announced a deal with the owners of Carson Valley Business Park to build its 360,000-square-foot plant in Douglas County and on Nov. 9, escrow was closed and the $4.5 million deal was sealed.

Once finished, the facility at Carson Valley Business Park will sit on about 50 acres and employ up to 200 workers within five years.

While things seemed rosy on the economic front, June brought the losing end of a political fight at the legislative level.

Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, lost his senate seat because of redistricting.

A whirlwind special session of the Legislature left rural Nevada with fewer senators and transferred the power of the state’s western senatorial seat, held by Jacobsen for 22 years, into another district.

The end of June also brought the end to another era.

Sharkey’s Nugget Casino was sold to the Holder Group LLC of Reno and its chief executive officer, Hal Holder.

The Gardnerville casino, owned by Milos “Sharkey” Begovich since 1971, is considered a Douglas County landmark, with Sharkey bringing what many locals refer to as an added sense of character to Carson Valley.

On Dec. 20, Holder received final approval from the state gambling board, and the transaction was closed.

July also included a tragic event.

On July 16 a two-car crash on Tillman Lane in the Gardnerville Ranchos killed a 46-year-old mother of four.

Tamra Dykes, of Gardnerville, died instantly after her car was struck by a car driven by Michael William Ball.

Ball, 23, remains in jail on $200,000 bail.

He is charged with two felony counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance causing death or serious bodily harm and two charges of reckless driving causing death or serious bodily harm.

Ball faces a maximum of 52 years in prison. An expected four-day trial is scheduled to start Feb. 4.

Numerous preparations for the trial are under way, including a court-provided $200-per-hour scene accident reconstructionist requested by Ball’s attorney, Terri Roeser.

Ball was allegedly driving 108 mph while heading south on Tillman Lane, according to a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper.

Also in July, word surfaced that a developer was looking to build a casino at the north end of Minden.

This caused a wave of curiosity and contention for the next three months after a series of public open houses and meetings was initially met with a lukewarm response.

Three months later, and after some revisions, the hotel-casino, RV park and housing development at the gateway to Minden was approved by Douglas County commissioners.

The 116-acre site is located near the intersection of Highways 395 and 88. It will feature a 21,000 square-foot casino, 260 hotel rooms, 800,000 square feet of commercial space, an RV park, 378 homes, a community park and open space.

The project’s developers, Nevada Northwest LLC, is a combined partnership of Lyon County businessman Tom Bruce and Reno casino executive Ferenc Szony.

On the heels of the Minden casino project is another casino planned at the south end of Gardnerville. While plans have yet to be officially submitted to the county, Yerington-based onion farmer Butch Peri hopes to transform the Matley Ranch into a gaming and recreational vehicle center.

Tragedy struck again in August after Gardnerville Elementary School teacher Phyllis Robison lost her two-year battle with cancer.

About 700 former students, teachers and friends of Robison filed into Carson Valley United Methodist Church in Gardnerville to swap stories and pay respects to the woman many say inspired them to do better.

Former students described Robison as the kindest woman they’ve ever known, while friends and colleagues called her gracious, warm and an inspiration of how to live.

Robison, a kindergarten teacher at Gardnerville Elementary School for 25 years, died Aug. 15. She was 48.

In a single-day event that shocked the world, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed a plane in Pennsylvania, killing thousands.

The effects were felt everywhere, including Douglas County.

Many locals gathered to pray in local churches and houses of worship. Others met in casinos and various gathering places to watch the tragic events unfold.

The aftermath of Sept. 11 brought tighter security measures at the Minden-Tahoe Airport and a heightened state of alert among residents and law enforcement officers.

On Sept. 17, an explosion at a Minden aerosol recycling plant killed one worker and severely burned four others.

The explosion tore off part of the building’s roof.

In October, a survey of 400 Douglas County residents compiled by a research firm found that residents drink more alcohol, use more illegal drugs and exercise less than the national average.

The survey, prepared for Carson-Tahoe Hospital, Carson Valley Medical Center and Barton Memorial Hospital, has raised public awareness on the overall health of Douglas County residents. The survey, which had more than 60 findings, had a plus or minus 4.9 percent degree of error.

On Nov. 30, it was announced that Carson Valley-based Bently Nevada Corp., the largest non-gaming manufacturer in Northern Nevada will be sold to a division of General Electric.

The deal came after nearly three months of negotiations between company founder and chief executive officer Don Bently and officials from GE’s Power Systems subsidiary.

Bently and GE officials say there are no plans to move the operation, which includes its Minden headquarters and facilities in Houston, England and India.

Bently, 77, said the decision was made so he could focus more time on his interests in agriculture technology.

On Dec. 11, fire gutted the 76-room Carson Valley Motor Lodge in downtown Minden.

Fire officials concluded the blaze was accidentally started by workers welding pipes together while doing remodeling work inside the motel.

n Staff writers Scott Murphy and Christy Chalmers contributed to this report.