PHOTO/BENNETT PHOTOS When the Reno Veterans Hospital opened in 1939, the surrounding area was mostly empty fields. In the postwar years, residences and schools were built around the hospital to accommodate the baby boom’s impact on families. The open land in front of the hospital seen in the foreground here, which could have been used for large buildings with pickup and dropoff lanes—eliminating the need to use Kirman Avenue for that purpose—was instead covered with several small boxy buildings. In fact, the original hospital is almost surrounded by small buildings.

The Veterans Administration hospital in Reno said last week it will go to the Reno City Council to ask that Kirman Avenue between Taylor and Burns streets—where hospital arrivals and departures are handled—be changed from two to one lanes.

The announcement was made at a neighborhood meeting called by the hospital on Sept. 17. No member of the Reno City Council attended, and citizen turnout was sparse.

The hospital is flanked on east and west by one-way streets—southbound Kirman on the east, northbound Locust on the west.

The concern at the meeting was almost entirely for neighborhood issues, with little discussion of the impact of changes on those who use the two one-way arteries but do not live there.

The hospital had previously said it was considering asking the city to close down Kirman altogether. “We know that there was a lot of heartburn on that,” hospital chief engineer Michael Rowley told the meeting, referring to negative reaction to the idea.

But that was not the only issue on the minds of residents. And even the one-lane plan for Kirman was not swallowed whole. Some residents worry that the Kirman choke point will send some traffic into surrounding residential streets.

“I’m assuming some of those cars would just shoot down Willkinson to Vassar,” one member of the audience said, referring to a residential street that runs parallel to Kirman between Taylor and Vassar to the east.

“Before you go to the city, I think you need to come up with a plan for Wilkinson,” another resident told the hospital officials.

Another resident said after the meeting that she suspected the plan to close down Kirman was a decoy to make the one-lane plan for the street seem more palatable after the hospital gave up the shutdown proposal.

After the Kirman shutdown had been disposed of, hospital planner Arlee Fisher said at one point, “I’m hoping that [the one-lane proposal for Kirman] is amenable to everyone and that it won’t be an issue.”

Toward the end of the meeting when someone raised doubts about the one-lane proposal, Fisher said flatly, “The application [to the city] is going to have one lane for Kirman.”

Some hospital proposals for possible changes beyond making Kirman one lane were more difficult for audience members to grasp. There were hospital graphics that showed Locust changed to two-way traffic for the stretch between Burns and Taylor, and parking removed from the hospital side of Burns, Taylor and Locust. Hospital spokespeople also talked about coaxing traffic west to Wells, two blocks west of the hospital, and adding a stoplight on Wells, in conjunction with changes around the hospital.

“Why does that necessitate anything else, like going to Wells?” asked an audience member.

Another resident said there are already long traffic delays on Wells, which was narrowed to two lanes in 2004 and has had constricted traffic ever since.

When Fisher talked about taking down one of the hospital’s out-buildings, an audience member asked, “That is what will be coming down, not homes in the area?”

Fisher said yes, then added, “For full disclosure, however, we do have a project to purchase properties in the area.” But she said it would not include condemnation to achieve its aims. “We will not go to eminent domain—no how, no way,” she said.

Poor planning?

Residents voiced longstanding complaints about parking in the neighborhood, and it was revealed by hospital officials that a relatively new parking garage—built five to ten years ago, depending on who told it—could not be expanded upward. “The structure cannot support more floors,” Rowley said. He said the existing parking garage has “structural deficiencies.” (Construction of the garage was already underway when Rowley arrived in Reno in 2006.) That information and other items prompted some discussion by residents after the meeting of whether planning for hospital expansions had been adequate.

The hospital property is an enormous piece of land, and much of its footprint has been incrementally used over the years with small buildings that went out more than up. It has been an instance of sprawl within a single city lot.

For instance, only one of the several newer structures now surrounding the original hospital buildings is more than three stories high. Out-buildings have been scattered around the property creating sprawl without creating much additional space, raising the question of whether that space is well used. None of it was used for off-street drop-off and pick-up lanes that would have eliminated the need to use Kirman for that purpose.

In addition, on resident suggested, if a setback on the Kirman side of the hospital were cleared of all the steps, posts, steel overhead structure, and so on, an off-street driveway for drop-offs and pick-ups could be installed that would eliminate the need for any changes to Kirman.

As the dialogue unfolded, some audience members offered ideas for the hospital to adopt that didn’t really have much to do with the hospital’s original reason for changing Kirman but served other neighborhood interests or needs. One resident talked about elimination of some parking to make it easier to navigate when Waste Management Inc. trash collecting trucks were around. One resident suggested that the hospital make the street one-lane before it reaches Taylor and the hospital in order to “slow down the traffic before the approach to your facility.” That led another audience member, operator of a patient family guest house, to suggest that Kirman be made one-lane as far back as Ryland—13 blocks north of the hospital.

The officials reminded the audience that the hospital can control only its own property, not city property. One resident asked if the hospital could decide what happens to parking on its own side of the street, and the answer was that is still the city’s call.

Rowley also reminded the residents, “The federal government can only pay for things on federal property.” The hospital can suggest expensive changes to the city, but not impose them.

Participants were disappointed at the small turnout for the meeting. “At all of last year’s meetings it was standing room only,” one wrote later in an email message. “Either people didn’t hear about it or didn’t care.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...