A last minute settlement has been reached between Washoe County and owners of a sprawling ranch in southwest Reno, but critics say the county gains little under the deal.
The tentative deal with Minnesota-based Evans Creek LLC over the
Ballardini Ranch avoids a condemnation trial that was scheduled to
begin Monday in Washoe District Court.
But critics say the county is walking away with little to show
for its efforts to preserve open space on the 1,000-acre ranch,
while giving developers too much.
"They just buckled under and gave it away," resident Herb
Rubenstein said Thursday after county commissioners announced the
tentative pact. "That entire space should have been preserved; and
it will never, ever be available again."
Under the deal, about 290 acres would be left as open space -
The county would be allowed to buy 116 acres and have an option
to buy a separate 222 acres for a trailhead to federal lands.
Washoe County also would pay Evans Creek $13.5 million to settle
a counterclaim and compensate the developer for not being able to
use the land after the county filed its condemnation suit in 2004.
Evans Creek, which bought the ranch in 1998 for $8.5 million,
also would be allowed to build up to 3,000 homes.
The commission approved the agreement in a 4-1 closed-session
vote Tuesday night, Commissioner Pete Sferrazza said, and scheduled
a final vote for Monday. Lawyers for both sides finished a draft of
the agreement Thursday.
Sferrazza, a lawyer, said he cast the only vote against the
agreement and would do so again Monday, because it gives too much
to the developers.
Sferrazza said mock trials conducted by the county showed juries
would pay Evans Creek $30 million to $70 million if the sale
occurred. If the price was too high, the county would be stuck for
legal costs of the trial.
Evans Creek lawyer Tom Erwin called the settlement a compromise
that "meets the needs of both parties."
He did not know how his clients might proceed with development
of the property and said leaving 116 acres of open space south of
the ranch is a positive step.
"It will always be open space," Erwin said.
Commissioner Bonnie Weber opposed condemnation but said she
supports the settlement.
"I don't know if I would call it a win-win," she said. "But
it could be a whole lot worse. We could have paid $70, 80 or $90
million for the land. We did what we thought was best for everyone
in Washoe County."