Ballardini property could house 995 homes
by Susan Voyles
Copyright © 2000 Reno Gazette-Journal
Printable text version
Feb. 9, 2000 As a boy, Steve Walther and a buddy would ride their horses across the Ballardini Ranch and head straight up into the Sierra.
"When I was a kid, I fell in love with that ranch," said Walther, a Reno lawyer.
"Now I want to save it."
The ranch is the last big piece of property facing development along the Sierra foothills in the
Truckee Meadows and only one of two working ranches left in the valley. The other is the Bella Vista Ranch near Rattlesnake Mountain.
Plans to build nearly a thousand homes have turned the Ballardini property into a last-stand struggle over development. Nearby homeowners, members of Congress and city and county officials have all claimed a stake in its future.
Speaking on behalf of Ballardini developers is Jeff Codega of Reno. Codega, a planning consultant for Evans Creek Limited Partnership, of Roseville, Minn., said the group is ready to build up to 995 homes on the northern 425 acres of the 1,109-acre
The ranch borders southwest McCarran Boulevard less than eight miles from downtown Reno. Construction there is preferable to building new homes further out from Reno, Codega said, and would actually help prevent urban sprawl.
"Bottom line, this has become a close-in property," he said.
The first milestone in the property's destiny comes Thursday. That's when the Regional Planning Governing Board will be asked to consider a land-use change this spring on the northern 425 acres. The proposed change to suburban use would permit up to three homes to be built on each acre. The land's current rural-use designation allows only one home on 10 acres.
If the regional board decides not to act on the request this year, the city of Reno could come
back next year and sponsor the same land-use change.
Walther said an extra year would buy valuable time for open-space advocates to assemble a deal to buy the ranch.
He and others are lobbying the Washoe County Commission to spend $3 million to buy land at
the ranch, drawing on a proposed parks bond sale, while others are hopeful of a federal land
If the governing board changed the land-use designation to suburban this year, Walther said,
the ranch's price tag would rise considerably.
No one has yet approached the owner-developers with a buyout plan, Codega said.
" Certainly a $3 million bond issue wouldn't buy a fraction of that property," he said. "But in the long-term, does it make sense to have that ranch in open space in a state that's 86 percent federally owned to start with?
" But I wouldn't rule out anything. Any property is for sale at the right price."
County records show the Minnesota company purchased the entire ranch for $8.5 million in
Walther and the (Protect) Our Washoe group he leads have a successful track record in stopping
unwanted development in the rural area southwest of Reno.
The group, including many prominent southwest Truckee Meadows residents, in 1983 defeated a plan for an extension of the U.S. 395 freeway to run behind Windy Hill, just east of the Ballardini Ranch. The group also won Washoe County approval for what is known as the Southwest Rural Area Plan, which retains the rolling countryside, dotted with homes, pastures, ponds, wildlife areas and winding country roads.
In its current fight, the group has gained the Southwest Truckee Meadows Citizens Advisory
Board's endorsement for earmarking $3 million to buy ranch land in a possible county bond
issue this November.
The Washoe County Parks Commission is recommending $3 million be set aside for the
Ballardini from a $30 million bond issue for parks now being evaluated. A survey is now being done on citizens' reaction to possible bond issues covering parks, libraries and courts.
The Washoe County Commission is expected to have the survey results in mid-March and then
make a decision.
Meanwhile, southwest resident Greta Mestre is working with Nevada's Congressional delegation to attempt a federal land exchange to buy the rest of the ranch.
A bill authorizing federal land exchanges in northern and southern Nevada has been heard by
one committee in Congress. In a land exchange, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would put some of its excess properties up for sale and use the proceeds to buy sensitive lands such as the Ballardini Ranch.
Dave Cherry, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, said the senator stands ready to help with
Ballardini Ranch exchange if it is the will of regional officials. But he also said the senator
doesn't want to interfere with local control.
U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons of Reno wants to hold a neighborhood meeting on the ranch issue, said
his press spokesman Jay Cranford.
"His neighbors have raised the red flag and are looking to him for help in any way he can,"
Between the bond issue and a possible land exchange, Walther said he's hopeful the ranch can
be preserved. He said it could serve residents well for generations as a regional park and Reno's own gateway to the Sierra.
The Ballardini family worked with federal officials on a land exchange to conserve the ranch a few years ago. But the deal fell through when federal officials questioned the land exchange process itself and exchanges came to an end. That process is now being revived in Congress.
When Washoe County adopted the southwest area plan in 1983, the Ballardini Ranch's future was pegged as a deer sanctuary, said Ron Bath, who served as the regional planning chairman
at the time.
To develop the ranch now "is almost a breaking of faith of what planning is all about," said Bath, now a U.S. Air Force general in charge of long-range and strategic planning in Arlington, Va.
Codega insists good development is the way to save the ranch, which he calls "a gorgeous
piece of property."
Codega said access to the Sierra foothills can be guaranteed if a trailhead were built in conjunction
with a neighborhood city park and an elementary school to share parking.
In his group's plans, half of the 425 acres on the ranch's northern end would be left as open space. In addition, there would be plans to enhance vegetation at the edges of the ranch and along two creeks to provide forage for deer and other wildlife.
Codega said a hill across from Skyline Drive and McCarran would have to be heavily graded to serve as the main entrance to the ranch development. But, he said, rockwalls, landscaping
and even waterfalls would hide the scars of cutting into the hill.
Codega said the developers want the project to be considered as a planned unit development so
its features can be considered as a whole.
He was the first developer in the region to use the concept at Caughlin Ranch, which has won a
number of design awards for integrating and enhancing open space in a residential project.
Proposed use of Ballardini Ranch
Evans Creek Limited Partnership is requesting an amendment for a change in land use from rural to suburban in the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan. That would allow the developer to build 925 homes on 425 acres on a portion of the Ballardini Ranch.
The remaining 594 acres of the Ballardini Ranch the southern end is designated in the master plan as rural reserve, which allows only one home for every 40 acres.
Codega said he expects that southern property would be planned next year and sponsorship
would be sought for needed changes to develop it as well.
In any such plan, Codega said no road connections would be made to the south, connecting with the fragile two-lane country road network. That's among the rural residents' biggest fears.
Councilman wants road
Reno Councilman Dave Rigdon is the driving force for opening the door for developing the northern acreage of the Ballardini, writing the letter asking the regional board to sponsor the land-use change this year.
Rigdon said he's simply looking out for the safety of hundreds of people who live at the top of Ridgeview Drive. The Ballardini development plan includes a road connecting with Ridgeview, giving residents a back exit to escape a wildfire.
" I'm only trying to get my road," Rigdon said.
Reno hasn't built a new road in years. Developers build roads as part of their subdivisions. The land-use change would allow that subdivision, including the road connection, to be built.
Reno Fire Chief Charles Lowden said Ridgeview Drive was built extra wide for fire trucks,
because there is no secondary exit. A long-term plan has always anticipated a back door, he
But Bruce Arkell, a traffic engineer working for (Protect) Our Washoe, said Ridgeview homeowners would not want Ridgeview Drive connected with the Ballardini Ranch if they consider all the traffic that will come with it.
If the entire ranch is developed, Arkell said, many of the future residents might use Ridgeview when heading east, rather than drive back to McCarran Boulevard at the main entrance.
The Lakeridge Springs Association, including 300 of the homeowners on or near Ridgeview Drive, have now voiced their opposition to development of the Ballardini Ranch because of the potential for increased traffic. Such a statement was signed Feb. 4 by the association's president, Ray Watson.
Arkell said Ridgeview eventually would have to be widened to four lanes to accommodate all the traffic.
In a helicopter ride Walther provided for a Reno Gazette-Journal reporter and photographer on
Monday, he pointed out canyons on the Ballardini Ranch where deer look for shelter and food
in the winter.
"All these little pockets are tremendous for deer," Walther said.
Craig Mortimore, Nevada wildlife supervisor, said there's no question deer will leave the ranch if it's developed. Especially in the winter, he said, a herd of several hundred deer forage for food in the lower foothills from Verdi to Carson City.
On the Somersett project approved in northwest Reno, Codega recommended an experiment in
planting more edible plants for deer at the edge of the development and banning fences to let deer and other animals roam free. A similar plan would be developed for the Ballardini, he said. But there are no results to consider. Construction at Somersett is set to begin this year.
Walther and other defenders of the rural southwest Truckee Meadows say the area already has lost much valuable ground to suburban sprawl. Over the past decade, the Double Diamond and Damonte ranches have been built in the southeast Truckee Meadows, the Belli Ranch in Verdi is now divided into estates, and the D'Andrea Ranch is becoming a subdivision in east Sparks.
Paul Butler, owner of the Bella Vista Ranch behind Rattlesnake Mountain, also has plans to annex his large property to Reno for future development.
Steve Mestre, who owns a little ranch near the Ballardini, said he'll be sorry if that ranch, too, is
turned over to homes.
" I remember a little lane called Hash Lane," Mestre said.
" Now it's McCarran. You go to Windy Hill and all you see is rooftops.
"This is a decision that could result in destroying the last of our ranching heritage. We're down
to the last. They have literally developed the whole valley."
LAND USE ACRES NUMBER
Single-Family Housing 120 495 28.4%
25 500 5.9
Open space/common areas
Community parks/school site
25 5.8 Roads 45 10.5 TOTAL 425 995 100%
Source: Jeff Codega Planning/Design, Inc.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Regional Planning Governing Board on Thursday will hear a request to consider intensifying land uses at the Ballardini Ranch. The meeting is at 2 p.m. in Washoe County Commission chambers, 1001 E. 9th St., Reno.
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