PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS Workers enter a university-owned building on Eighth Street between Center and Lake streets.

An April 27 meeting of the Reno City Council could settle the fate of a group of 19th century Reno homes near the University of Nevada campus.

Groups like the Reno Historical Preservation Society and the city’s Historic Resources Commission have been meeting and organizing to be ready for the council session.

“Once the city council makes this decision, UNR won’t have to come back to the council for further approvals,” said real estate agent Barrie Lynn, a historic preservation supporter.

The university wants to plow under the homes and shut down Center and Lake streets, calling it the Gateway Precinct or Gateway Project. The university has been vague about what it would then do with the properties, but said a College of Business complex is one possibility. “We will explore the possibility of constructing an academic facility, such as a College of Business complex,” according to a university plan. “The Gateway Project will also likely include student housing for upperclassmen and outdoor recreational fields.”

At a September meeting of the Nevada Board of Regents, UNR President Marc Johnson was told to move ahead with design of a business building for the site.

But UNR’s Heidi Gansert told KUNR on April 6, “We are not looking at demolishing those buildings. We’re working to try to find alternatives, and … that’s reusing them or reusing portions of them or moving them.”

“You’re always going to have, on a case-by-case, what’s worth saving, what’s not,” said City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus. “But that block’s worth saving. … I really want edges [of the campus] that show context of the history.”

PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS City Councilmember Brekhus calls Center/Lake neighborhood “worth saving.”

A city proceeding involving the University of Nevada, Reno is different from its other duties that deal with development or construction.

“The tricky part is that the campus is exempt from permitting but not from zoning,” Lynn said.

That may be one of the reasons the council in years past has gained a reputation for a sweetheart relationship with UNR. Residents of campus neighborhoods have sometimes complained that UNR gets a free ride on some issues, particularly parking.

Lynn says the proposal before the council is “so convoluted and complicated” that it will be a challenging subject for people attending. It will involve council deliberations on the portion of the city master plan dealing with that one part of the city.

Commission snubbed?

There have been some complaints that the city’s Historic Resources Commission has been largely ignored on the issue. DowntownMakeover.org noted in February that the HRC “only recently had the chance to insert verbiage into the proposed plan regarding historic preservation, a small paragraph in the plan that reads ’Historic characteristics should be respected and maintained when possible and new development should demonstrate an effort to retain historic character throughout the city.’ … [T]o be on the HRC, you actually have to have a degree, with the exception of one person who has to have historic preservation experience? It’s a blue-ribbon panel. It seems sometimes like the HRC exists only as a requirement for the City of Reno to be a certified government entity. The HRC is grossly under-utilized, yet it can be argued they collectively have more experience than our planning commission. Does the City of Reno utilize the HRC to actually plan development, or only use it to review development?”

The HRC does not have a big public profile. Its page on the city website does not list its members or provide any way to contact them.

It met at the beginning of this month and called for preservation of the Center/Lake neighborhood.

Lynn said, “Supporting historic preservation doesn’t mean that you’re anti-development. It just means you support a thoughtful approach to it.”

Brekhus pointed to the language of Nevada law.

“You know, it’s the state law determination, will the public ’be materially injured’?” she said. “It’s very broad standing. But I think you can make the case that an abandonment of those alleys or that street that facilitates the demolition [and] the loss of that architectural history of this part of town—I think you can make an argument that the public would be materially harmed.” (She was quoting Nevada Revised Statute 278.480.)

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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...