Consideration of land use and zoning issues should be considered early in the real estate development process. Projects may require relief in the form of a master plan change, rezoning, a special or conditional use permit, preliminary mapping, or a combination of these. This article provides a guide to the basics of land use rights in northern Nevada.
Development permits are generally obtained from the local jurisdiction where the project is located. In Washoe County, projects can be approved by the county, the city of Reno, or the city of Sparks. These three local jurisdictions also participate in the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency (TMRPA), which has created a regional master plan and has additional powers on matters of regional importance.
First steps to consider: Identify the project type and potential locations
The first step in real estate development often begins with identifying the type of project targeted for development. Is the project exclusively residential, commercial, industrial or mixed-use? Identify the specific use or uses being provided – e.g. B. if residential, the project will consist of single-family or multi-family houses; If commercial, will the use be retail stores, restaurants, offices, a car wash, etc.? Some uses may or may not be permitted by law. Determine the density (number of housing units per acre) or intensity (square feet) you are providing.
Next, potential locations should be identified. Each jurisdiction in northern Nevada (whether an incorporated city or county) maintains a zone map and its own zoning regulations (sometimes referred to as a development code) that establish the applicable standards for each zone.
Determine existing building and development standards
Each property in Northern Nevada is assigned an Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) for identification and tax assessment purposes. In addition, each property will have an existing master plan designation and regulatory zoning designation. Under NRS Chapter 278 (Planning & Zoning), most northern Nevada cities and counties have adopted a master plan that establishes overall policy plans and goals for the region. Each master plan includes a comprehensive land use map detailing the master plan designation for each property within the jurisdiction. The development plan must correspond to the development plan. For example, a master plan designation of residential areas would generally not allow commercial zones.
For zoning information for properties in the cities of Reno and Sparks, see the links below:
The existing zoning district (or regulatory zone) conforms to permitted uses and applicable development standards. Uses may be permitted by law, permitted with permission (e.g., special use permit/conditional use permit), or prohibited in certain zones. Development standards generally include maximum height, maximum or minimum density or intensity, setbacks, lot coverage, parking and charging standards, design requirements, and other requirements.
Master plan changes and reallocations
Once the existing zoning is known, you may want to determine if the existing zoning is workable or if the property needs to be re-zoned to achieve the desired use. If the existing zoning is inconsistent with your proposed project, you will likely need to rezon the property and possibly obtain a master plan designation change. In addition, additional regulations may apply even if the proposed use is permissible and the project is to be constructed in accordance with development standards. Legal counsel can assist in determining compliance with all regulations.
When a master plan change or rezoning is required, the process typically requires a non-binding recommendation from the planning commission, with a final decision by the city council or district commission. Additionally, any changes to the master plan in Washoe County, Reno and Sparks will require further review and recommendation by the TMRPA Regional Planning Commission (RPC). The RPC reviews the proposal for consistency with the regional master plan. Appeals of RPC decisions are brought to the TMRPA Board of Directors, which is composed of elected officers from the Reno and Sparks City Councils and the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners.
Projects that require subdivision
Projects aiming to subdivide lots, including condominiums, must comply with all state and local lot division regulations. Depending on the number of lots to be made available, it is usually necessary to apply for a “tentative card” or a “parcel card”. In Nevada, these requests must usually be accompanied by a site plan and legal descriptions prepared by a Nevada licensed surveyor, a recent title report, application fees, and completed forms. Depending on the request, the jurisdiction may also require plans for utilities, grading, landscaping, lighting, and sewerage. Most applications require a written explanation describing how to meet all necessary legal requirements, which typically includes general compliance with the applicable master plan and compliance with zoning regulations.
In most cases, these types of subdivision requests are decided by a planning commission, parcel map review committee, or adjustment committee. The decision can be appealed to the managing authority (usually the city council or district commission).
Condo projects must also meet additional state regulations and register with the Nevada Real Estate Division. Legal counsel can assist in complying with all requirements.
land use rights
Projects that cannot be built by law require a “permission” — a legal facility granted by the city or county to allow part of the project to proceed. Common forms of relief include a conditional or special use permit, a site plan review, a major or minor variance, or a variance. Each jurisdiction has different requirements, but typically these types of applications require the submission of several materials, including an analysis of how to meet all of the permit’s legal determinations. In most cases, a planning commission or adjustment body has final decision-making authority, with appeals to the managing authority (city council or district commission) being allowed. Legal advisors can assist in the preparation of all written analysis and work with the team to ensure all materials are submitted in a complete and timely manner.
Projects of Regional Importance (Washoe County)
Some claims and subdivision requests reach the level of “Project of Regional Importance”. Pursuant to NRS 278.026(5), projects of regional importance include, but are not limited to, projects that (1) increase employment by no fewer than 938 employees; (2) housing not less than 625 units; (3) hotel accommodations with not less than 625 rooms; (4) effluent not less than 87,500 gallons per day; (5) water usage not less than 625 acre feet per year; or (6) traffic not less than an average of 6,250 trips per day. In addition, a project of regional importance may also be one that impacts designated historical, archaeological, paleontological, cultural or scenic resources; would result in the creation of significant new geothermal or mining operations; or would have a significant impact on the natural resources, public services, public institutions, schools, or the assumed regional shape of the region.
Outline of the process
Before filing the claim or subdivision application, you should consider scheduling a pre-application with personnel from the appropriate jurisdiction. Depending on the nature of the request, staff may include representatives from planning, engineering, police, fire, commercial licensing, and other departments or departments of local governments.
After submission, staff provide comments on the application, which may include requests for additional information or clarification. Once all responses are received, the design staff will set a hearing date and produce a “personnel report” that will provide a thorough analysis of the project and its regulatory compliance and permitting results. The employees usually make a recommendation for approval or rejection for each project.
Prior to the hearing, legal counsel may work with you to contact members of the adjudication panel to share the details of the application, answer any questions individual members may have, and learn about concerns about the project. Typically in Northern Nevada, during the hearing, the planning staff will make a presentation, the applicant and/or representative will make a presentation, and members of the public will each be given a 3-minute opportunity to speak. In the end, the committee decides.
Depending on the type of application, an appeal can first be lodged with the magistrate or the district administration, further appeals with the regional court are also possible. Legal counsel can assist at all stages of the process, either guiding the application through the entire process or assisting as needed.