Mayor Ed Lawson has a solution for the impending shortage of developable land projected for the Northern Nevada area—to clear the way for Sparks development projects that could provide much-needed housing and infrastructure for the region.
During our recent annual Economic Summit, Lawson, the mayor of Sparks, shared insights about enhancing and expanding Sparks’ development into surrounding areas.
One of Lawson’s significant goals is to address the impacts of the 15.4% population increase Washoe County has experienced in the last decade, contributing to projections that the county will run out of the most developable open land by 2027.
“We knew that the region was running out of land, but we didn’t anticipate it to happen this fast,” Mayor Lawson said.
If made possible by the passage of the Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act, expanding developable land in Sparks could bring more housing, ease congestion on some of the area’s busiest thoroughfares and combat the negative impacts of urban sprawl on the environment.
Lawson also addressed how the Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act could affect the housing market, environmental challenges, job opportunities and provide residents with a better quality of life.
To learn more about how this growth has changed and will continue to influence the greater Sparks area or how to show support, keep reading.
Forced To Build Up, Not Out: Sparks Development Challenges and Opportunities
If you’re a resident in Northern Nevada or you’re thinking about moving here, then you’ll want to know about the plans Mayor Lawson has for expanding Sparks development. Here are some key takeaways from his presentation and how you can help bring positive change to the region.
How has population growth impacted Sparks and the greater Northern Nevada region over the last decade?
Lawson said: When talking about our city’s growth, it’s essential to consider the Tahoe Regional Industrial Complex (TRI) since it’s the largest industrial park in the world. With more than 15,000 acres of land, the TRI complex offers enormous potential for economic growth. And not only is the Tesla Gigafactory 1 located here, but many other world-leading tech companies such as Blockchains and Google have recognized the park’s unique development and business opportunities.
With this in mind, there needs to be more housing to accommodate the number of people who pursue and seek jobs in the TRI complex. For example, Storey County will bring more than 50,000 jobs to the region in the next several years, but only about 4,200 residents currently live there. So, this means that most workers live in Reno or Sparks and commute daily.
As a result, Interstate 80 experiences extreme congestion, accidents happen, and we’re stuck with four-to-five-hour delays. This gridlock isn’t fun for Reno/Sparks residents trying to get to work or return home to their families after a long day. I realized the need to do something about this a few years ago. So, I met with former Mayor Geno Martini and asked him questions like:
“What can we do about this?”
“Why aren’t we expanding into the land area near Storey County?”
To get a better idea of what our region is up against, we reached out to the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), who helped us realize that Washoe County is running out of developable land.
In fact, the region will absorb desirable residential land by 2027, industrial by 2041, and office/retail space by the end of 2022.
What does the Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act aim to address?
Lawson said: In 2016, Washoe County, the City of Reno, and the City of Sparks approved letters of resolution to support the creation of a lands bill to address the region’s population growth.
Since then, EDAWN commissioned the study to support the Truckee Meadows Public Lands Management Act, a proposed federal lands bill that plans to open up tens of thousands of acres of federal land, primarily in the area east of Sparks.
This lands bill will be critical to minimizing the negative consequences of urban sprawl and can provide more affordable housing options, better transportation systems, and so much more.
We’re also planning to develop a new northeastern connector from La Posada Drive to the USA Parkway to eliminate some traffic congestion on Interstate 80.
The Truckee Meadows Public Lands Management Act aims to also:
- Address housing demand and affordability
- Align with the Regional Plan Update
- Assist with public land management and improve access to recreation and resources for land management
- Creation of new additional wilderness areas in northern Washoe County
- Encourage infill development and maximize the use of existing infrastructure
- Ensure disposal parcels follow existing local and federal regulations and development standards
- Fund continued preservation of open space and enhance the quality of life
- Improve local infrastructure to address growth (transit, water storage, flood management)
- Support trail and park infrastructure enhancements (i.e., Truckee River Linear Park)
What are some environmental challenges of building on federally owned land?
Lawson said: As we expand Sparks development northeast, it’s essential to consider several environmental factors because it involves building on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. With this in mind, we have to be mindful of protecting indigenous artifacts, such as North America’s oldest known petroglyphs. We want to preserve and honor the cultural history and traditions of Northern Nevada’s Native American populations.
Water is another critical aspect to consider. Although Truckee Meadows Water Authority does a fantastic job of providing water to more than 385,000 residents every day and we have enough water to build 50,000 new homes, our water treatment plant can’t restore that much water.
In other words, what goes in must come out, and a new sewer plant could also cost up to 200 million. So, that will be a limiting factor in the future.
As a board member for the Truckee River Flood Management Authority (TRFMA), we’re also focused on reducing the impact of flooding in the Truckee Meadows, restoring the river’s ecosystem, and improving recreational opportunities in our community.
The Truckee River Flood Management Project will help us accomplish this goal. And after more than a decade of delegation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we’ve been granted about $161 million in federal funds to construct the Corps National Economic Development (NED) Plan, which will provide 50-years of flood protection for the Truckee Meadows. We’re currently waiting on approval from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to move forward with this project.
We hope to build the Truckee River corridor with these environmental protections in place, which will become a spawning ground for the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Is it just me, or is it highly unique that our Downtown Sparks community will live in harmony with Nevada’s state fish?
What plans do you have to improve city infrastructure?
Lawson said: If you have visited Downtown Sparks, then you probably know that our city centers need some revitalization. We contracted J. Carter Witt III, President of Silverwing Development, to oversee one of our most anticipated projects—a 236-unit apartment complex in Victorian Square.
This Downtown Sparks development includes 12 apartment buildings, a clubhouse, and a pool. There are two structures in front of GalaxyTheatres on Victorian Avenue designed to provide more retail and restaurant space.
The industrial area in Sparks is our next area of improvement. With several efforts underway, the Oddie Wells Project is geared towards revitalizing the 3.2-mile long transportation corridor between Wells Avenue and Oddie Boulevard. This should increase safety and mobility options for Reno/Sparks residents by making it easier to go from one city center to another.
We also plan to repurpose a skilled nursing facility into a 58-unit apartment complex. This will help us reduce our environmental impact since we will be keeping most of the building’s structural components and systems intact.
In another effort to add value to our region, we’re revamping the industrial area along the Truckee River. Because like I’ve always said, “every city in America would love to have a river run through it.” But our river is tilted up by concrete. So, we want to build a River City Center that will include a residential overlay to provide housing and recreational space for 25,000 to 30,000 residents.
We’re committed to making this possible for all community members, including our homeless population. That’s why our Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement (H.O.P.E) team actively assists those experiencing homelessness. Since November 2021, H.O.P.E has helped more than 150 people off the streets by working with various organizations and charities. We’re determined to help those in need with such things as affordable housing, shelter space, food, clothing, and obtaining identification and social security cards.
H.O.P.E has also helped us advance important Sparks development initiatives along the Truckee River. This dedication to helping our community grow is why we are nominated for the Nevada Taxpayers Association’s Cashman Good Government Award this year.
With these exciting city infrastructure plans, we can provide more affordable housing to our region, reduce vehicle pollution and provide our citizens with a better quality of life.
We’ve started to call downtown the entertainment district. After all, we have one of the largest outdoor concert venues in Northern Nevada and more than 100 new artists’ lofts and retail spaces coming to the Oddie Boulevard City Center.
How can community members get more involved?
Lawson said: If you look at the developable land we currently have, you might think you’re looking at a map of San Francisco. This is because BLM land surrounds our region, which means it may as well be the ocean—you can’t build on it. So, we are forced to build upward, not outward.
And while building vertically may help address the missing middle, it could also increase housing prices and cause home sales to slow.
So, whether you’re a real estate professional or in the market to buy or sell, you’ll need to consider how this will affect business and inventory levels. I’m trying to say that our way of living in Northern Nevada is on the line.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s life or death for us.
That’s why we’re asking community members to support the Truckee Meadows Public Lands Management Act by contacting Senator Rosen’s office at TMPLMA_comments@rosen.senate.gov.
By participating in this matter, you can help address and resolve some of the region’s most pressing issues. Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District election is also happening this year, which means 2022 is the final year of our current Congress. So, if the lands bill isn’t approved this year, we’re probably looking at four more years and much less space to grow.