Scenic Nevada filed a lawsuit against the city of Reno recently to halt three large signs from being erected to advertise the new Neon Line District in the west end of downtown and along the freeway.
A majority of the Reno City Council gave their approval for the signs in October when they adopted a development agreement (DA) with Jacobs Entertainment that includes signage provisions that we believe circumvent city sign codes and violate state law. Called a “Petition for Judicial Review”, our lawsuit, filed November 19, asks the court to review the city’s action and then void the DA completely or partially to omit the sign provisions. Read the lawsuit.
The signs do not comply with code and putting them in the DA to circumvent the city’s sign code actually runs afoul of state law which says that a development agreement can only govern land in which the developer has a real property interest:
“In the manner prescribed by ordinance, a governing body may, upon application of any person having a legal or equitable interest in land, enter into an agreement with that person concerning the development of that land.” NRS 278.0201 1. (Emphasis added).
Scenic Nevada contends that the area covered by the DA contains many parcels in which the developers who signed the DA have no legal or equitable interest, and thus, the DA is contrary to NRS 278.0201.
The three large signs are designated as “area identification” signs in the DA and are shown on the developer’s renderings as AC-1 (archway sign), PY-1B (cemetery sign), and PY-1 (gas station sign). See map below. All three still need building permits so city engineers can make sure the signs are structurally sound, according to the deputy city attorney.
As proposed, the archway sign will be erected in a mixed-use zone and would stand 27 feet tall and span 102 feet over Fourth Street, a public roadway, blocking a scenic mountain view. The north pylon would be anchored in a public right-of-way, which obviously is not owned by the developer.
Though labeled an “area identification” sign, the archway sign would only be a few paces away from the “area identification” sign at the gas station on the corner of Fourth Street and Keystone Avenue.
PY-1B would be on cemetery land facing Interstate 80, almost three-quarters of a mile away from the proposed Neon Line District entrance, making it impossible to understand why the city would call this an “area identification” sign. Scenic Nevada also contends the developer did not have a “legal or equitable interest” in the cemetery when the DA came before the council.
The gas station sign, PY-1, at Fourth Street and Keystone would be on land owned by Kokee & Neelam LLC, according to the Washoe County Assessor’s website data. The gas station sign is proposed to be 25 feet tall. In order to comply with Reno Municipal Code, a sign in this location, which is proposed for a parcel under one acre and within a mixed-use zone, would be limited to eight feet.
The Council and Developer’s Promise
Before agreeing to the DA, City Council Member Naomi Duerr won a commitment from the developer’s representative Garret Gordon to hold off on any further requests until a Town Hall could be convened to hear community concerns. The council agreed to host the meeting, tentatively set for Thursday, January 13, according to Council Member Duerr.
However, city staff jumped the gun and scheduled two Neon Line District street abandonments for tomorrow’s regular city council meeting, December 8, before the town hall can take place.
“We’re happy to do a town hall, prior to me showing up to this body with our tentative maps,” Gordon said during the Oct. 27 meeting with Council. “We have two abandonments as well. We would do the town hall before I come back to this body. Also…we’re happy to go into the town hall and get feedback on those signs before submitting a sign permit.”
It’s important to us that the city council and the developer keep that promise by postponing the abandonment requests. They should wait until the town hall meeting is held otherwise the city risks losing the community’s trust. We’re wondering if the council hears the abandonment requests tomorrow, will the city also review the sign permits before the town hall takes place?
Meanwhile, Scenic Nevada had to move forward with the lawsuit because the townhall will occur long after the November 21 deadline to file in district court. If the meeting is fruitless, we couldn’t take the chance that we also lose our day in court. The hearing will take place before Judge Connie Steinheimer, Second Judicial District Court, Department 4.