By Susan Voyles
"We're down to the last. They have literally developed the
Steve Mestre, who owns a small ranch next to the Ballardini Ranch
Some want to draw line at ranch
Ballardini property could house 995 homes
February 9th, 2000
a boy, Steve Walther and a buddy would ride their horses across the Ballardini
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
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
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
"Bottom line, this has become a close-in property," he said.
The first milestone in the property's destiny comes Thursday. That's when
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
"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
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
Board's endorsement for earmarking $3 million to buy ranch land in a possible
issue this November.
The Washoe County Parks Commission is recommending $3 million be set aside
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
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
was pegged as a deer sanctuary, said Ron Bath, who served as the regional
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
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,
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
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
Codega said he expects that southern property would be planned next year
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
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
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
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
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
president, Ray Watson.
Arkell said Ridgeview eventually would have to be widened to four lanes
to accommodate all
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,"
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.
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."
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.
© 2000 Reno Gazette-Journal
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