“Superpad” development bill stalls in Assembly Government Affairs

by Brian Bahouth

Residential development, entirely dependent on automobiles, has expanded well-beyond Reno's urban core - image - Brian Bahouth/the Ally

Carson City – Will the construction of massive, master-planned communities help solve northern Nevada’s affordable housing shortage? That’s what Nevada state Senator Ben Kiekhefer and Aaron West of the Nevada Builders Alliance would have lawmakers believe when presenting Senate Bill 327 to the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on Wednesday.

According to Aaron West, SB327 would enable municipalities across the state to use the same “superpad” model of development that enabled massive projects like AnthemInspirada, and Summerlin in southern Nevada.

In a broad sense, the “super pad” scheme allows a developer to sell village-sized properties to builders in one transaction, and the “super pad” will then be subdivided into individual lots and developed. The current limit is four lots, and SB327 as amended would allow for five or more.

The original version of Senate Bill 327 was long and detailed, but an amendment effectively removed all the bill’s language and replaced it with a few paragraphs that revise a subsection of the laws by which subdivisions are created in Nevada.

The amended version of the bill passed the Senate Government Affairs committee unanimously on April 9, narrowly ahead of the deadline for original committee passage. With little debate, the measure passed the Senate on a unanimous vote on April 22. On Wednesday of this week the bill was heard in the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs, and the legislation has been shelved pending a request for more information.

Aaron West of the Nevada Builders Alliance has been the primary presenter of this bill. Bill sponsor, Sparks Republican Senator Ben Kieckhefer was absent when SB327 was presented to the Senate Committee on Government Affairs on April 9. Aaron West presented the bill in Kieckhefer’s stead. During Wednesday’s hearing on SB327, Mr. West did the lion’s share of speaking when presenting SB327 to Assembly Government Affairs. Senator Kieckhefer made two minutes and twenty-six seconds of introductory remarks.

Hear Senator Kieckhefer’s presentation of SB327 to the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on Wednesday May 8, 2019.

When the bill was presented in Senate Government Affairs on April 9, the argument that building master-planned communities would help alleviate the region’s affordable housing shortage seemed an afterthought; but when the measure was presented to Assembly Government Affairs Wednesday, it was central to the presenters’ argument. Senator Kieckhefer said revising the law to allow developers the ability to divide parcels into five or more lots would be a “tool” for municipalities to streamline the approval process of master-planned communities.

Trickle up Housing

In his brief comments to Assembly Government Affairs, Senator Kieckhefer wasted no time saying the bill is aimed at solving the affordable housing shortage.

“Senate Bill 327 is an attempt to address the affordable housing crisis we’re facing by the production side,” Senator Kieckhefer told lawmakers. “We’ve seen a number of bills come through the Senate talking about the various tools that are available to governments to deal with the housing affordability based on market manipulation strategies and things like that. Providing additional incentives for affordable housing developers. This is trying to get toward the supply side of the problem, and it is done by an effort to streamline the development process, post entitlement approvals,” Kieckhefer said.

“Ultimately it (SB327) is designed to give an additional option for local governments when they approve a Planned Unit Development (PUD) over how future maps get processed within their municipality or county, so it is again, a tool that would be at the disposal of municipalities and counties if they choose to use it to streamline the development process,” Senator Kieckhefer said before pausing to reiterate a point.

“The land entitlement, the public process over whether the project is worthy. Whether the local government likes it. The public input to the project as a whole will have already taken place by the time any of this takes effect, and this is how the land is then further subdivided and infrastructure is laid in and tentative maps are ultimately put together. After that entire entitlement process has already transpired,” Kieckhefer said.

Aaron West continued with Kieckhefer’s themes and worked to assure lawmakers that the PUD process of approval would be no less rigorous than it currently is. West described the super pad process.

“As you go through the Planned Unit Development process, it’s a public process. It’s completely transparent. Months if not years of energy and effort go into defining the project, to all of the impacts, the infrastructure, to the community and setting and establishing all the amenities and everything else. That PUD, once approved, with this legislation, the developer would then would be able to go to what is called  a super pad phase. At that point, I don’t want to confuse you guys with too many terms, within a typical project of this scale, you would have villages, so essentially a super pad, if you think of a super pad as a village within a development. So you might have within the PUD seven different villages. Each one of those villages is sold off to a different builder, so you might have Toll Brothers over here and KB and you know, so they take that. The idea is that they take that and then take it through the necessary steps to completion, but the idea is that we create these super pads under a parcel map where we’re able to do more than four parcels, and that’s really all it is.”

Superpad developments in Nevada have created some of the wealthiest zip codes in the state, yet Mr West explained how building high end master planned communities would ultimately increase the stock of affordable housing.

“The idea is, by providing more supply (of housing), even if you’re providing high-end supply, you’re actually still creating opportunity within your communities, right. Because to your point, as you build that next product, someone is ready to move up. Someone’s ready to … they’ve got a new job or they’ve got a new position and they’re making more money and they want to move into that bigger home, that newer home, and that then provides that backfill of inventory for some that’s just getting started,” West said.

West told stories of municipalities finding ways to legally allow super pad development.

“The reality of the situation is, jurisdictions for the most part have found workarounds, but every jurisdiction is a little bit different, so we’re just actually trying to standardize this process, which you might hear from local governments that we’ve had conversations with, in a lot of cases they’re actually achieving what we’re trying to accomplish, but it’s being done within the PUD process or through a separate development agreement to try and find workarounds within state law, so if we’re trying to circumvent state law, why don’t we just put something in that actually provides a clear defined process for all jurisdictions,” West stated for the record.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Las Vegas Democrat Assemblyman Richard Carrillo seemed incredulous and had questions regarding county support for the bill. He called out the county lobbyists in the room and invited them to the table to offer testimony for, against or neutral.

“I see Clark County in here and Nye Co, Washoe, maybe they should come up to the table and see if they agree with this bill because they didn’t even come up in neutral or anything or opposition. Maybe they can speak about ‘another tool in the tool box,’ Carrillo said before summoning them to the table. “Nye Co? No takers? Washoe? We’ve got one more chair for you,” Carrillo said with the tone of a pitchman.

And representatives from both Washoe and Clark County did come to the table long enough to say they knew nothing of the bill and would get back to lawmakers.

Committee chair Flores ended the hearing by asking the county representatives in attendance to discover if their county leaders want this “tool” in their toolboxes. Chair Flores also strongly advised the bill sponsors to contact the other counties to formally gauge their desire for the proposed change in land use permitting.

“I highly recommend that you pressure the counties to get that because I think our committee wants to get an answer from them before we do anything with this bill,” Flores said to the bill’s sponsors.

Testimony

Support

Melinda Smith of the Builders Association of Northern Nevada made a very brief statement in support.

Opposition

Patrick Donnelly, Nevada State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity spoke in opposition to the bill.

Hear Patrick Donnelly’s comments.

“We feel that the process right now is working sufficiently,” Donnelly said. “We heard in the presentation the idea was framed around getting the product to market, but I think cities and communities have a right to decide whether it is the appropriate product to market, and those steps that we have in place now provide numerous avenues for citizens to participate in that process, so we feel that process should continue and that this bill is an unnecessary way to grease the skids for development.”

Michael Lawson is a member of the Washoe County Planning Commission and spoke in opposition to SB327.

Hear Michael Lawson’s comments in opposition of SB327.

“Expediting the process without proper review of the plans is reviewing the plans is not and efficient solution. There are an excess of 40,000 homes currently approved for construction in Washoe County under the tentative map approval that have yet to be built. It’s not like we’re wanting for a process that provides opportunities for development … the rhetoric we’re hearing about a need to expedite the process rings hollow to me,” Lawson said.

“The current process under NRS 278 is for a development to be completely designed so that individual residential lots and many details are defined,” Lawson continued. “This requirement ensures the design can be reviewed for tentative map approval. Engineering reports need to be submitted to show that there is traffic capacity, water availability, sewer treatment capacity and flood control before the development can be approved by the planning commission at the tentative-map step is the only step that gets public review input.

“Under SB327, the primary developer can submit a plan for a Planned Unit Development and tentative map including super pads which have no design details. The primary developer could sell the super pads to commercial builders who would complete the detailed design for these large tracts. This creates several issues including but not limited to the following:”

“Under SB327, the development is never reviewed in its entirety. Neither the commission nor the public gets to consider the finished product. If the primary builder grades the entire project but the superpads don’t sell, we have a mammoth scar on the landscape for the indefinite future with erosion and other hazards. SB327 is written so that the primary developer may include estimates of water, traffic, sewer, emergency services, and other impacts the development will produce. SB327 would not require the primary developer to submit his plan incorporating superpads to the planing commission for review,” Lawson told the committee.

“SB327 would not require secondary developers to submit any engineering reports regarding the tract plans. So no one is responsible for the engineering analysis of the finished design,” Lawson continued. “SB327 would require cities or counties to designate a single person to review and approve the secondary developers’ tract plans. These plans would not go before the planning commission. The city council or county commission would never vote on these plans. There would be no public review. SB327 would only allow the city or county 30 days to approve, conditionally approve, or disapprove plan. This is not enough time to seek public input or to get questions answered. SB327 would only allow regional agencies 15 days to respond to a secondary developer’s tract plan,” Lawson said.