Interview: Planning The Cost Of Growth In Reno

Aug 16, 2016

Credit Ken Lund/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency is in charge of coordinating with the cities of Reno and Sparks, along with Washoe County, on land use planning. That includes conversations about resources, like water, and infrastructure, like roads and schools.

“One of the other pieces that we’ve really been prioritizing over the past four years or so is predicting population growth and employment growth and talking about where that’s going to happen in our community,” explains Kim Robinson, the agency’s executive director.

“We’ve been using Geographic Information Systems to really enhance that conversation.”

Robinson spoke to our News Director Michelle Billman for our series Behind The Battery Boom. The audio and transcript for that interview is below:

KUNR: For that series, we’re examining Tesla’s effect on Northern Nevada, which includes big questions about infrastructure needs as more people move to the area for new jobs. That’s why the TMRPA is doing a regional housing study to look at where growth may occur. Along with Kim Robinson, I’m joined by GIS Coordinator Jeremy Smith as well, and Jeremy, you’re helping to head up that study, right?

Jeremy Smith: That’s true, yes, so we take information at the parcel level that we get from Washoe County, from the assessor, and we use that as the unit that we are able to predict the future on. Every parcel has a certain kind of zoning; to some degree we kind of know what could go there. We’re capable of using our model to not only forecast, say, a line into the future, like we expect we’ll have so many people, but actually put those people on the ground. We do that on the parcel level and that allows us to then re-aggregate the data, so, for example, we could re-aggregate the growth to different school districts and we could look specifically at how that would affect the schools.

Kim Robinson: And one of the reasons that we found this to be so useful to the various agencies we work for is the cost of many services and infrastructure that are provided by the government is so dependent on where it’s located.

KUNR: And as you plan for the future with this study, where do you expect development to happen most rapidly?

JS: We’re specifically looking at two distinct patterns of development. One is the status quo, where we go to the fringe and continue to build suburban developments.

KUNR: When you say fringe, what do you mean?

JS: The fringe, for me, is really just inside what we call the Truckee Meadows Service Area boundary, the TMSA.

KR: And that was set by the agency in 2002; the idea being that municipal infrastructure such as water, wastewater, and roads actually won’t be provided outside of that particular line.

KUNR: And, so, when you say “building to the fringe,” do you mean suburban sprawl?

JS: Some folks might call it that. But when I say “to the fringe,” if you look, there are several thousand units that could be realized that are just inside that boundary. We actually have quite a bit of vacant land and potential capacity inside our Truckee Meadows Service Area. In looking at the data, we can see that we have a vast majority of single-family homes…that’s what we’re considering for the future.

KUNR: So, what do you do with that information?

JS: One of the goals of our study is we’re partnering with four regional service providers—the water authority, the school district, the Regional Transportation District on roads, and also the local jurisdictions around wastewater—and we’re looking at trying to get the cost differences in these two patterns of spatial growth. If we grow to the fringe, does that incur greater costs to wastewater, for example, or maybe it’s less cost for schools? We don’t necessarily know; we’re in the midst of completing that work right now, but we’re trying to get a feel for the relative difference in cost, based on how we grow.

KUNR: And growing out to the fringe is the status quo…what is the other possible scenario?

JS: Another scenario we considered was more of moving towards the core, not in a huge way. It wasn’t like we said, ‘All the growth will occur inside the McCarran ring,’ because that’s just not possible, but taking a reasonable approach to, ‘What if we build a little more toward the center? And what if we choose housing products that are a little more dense?’ How is that going to change our cost scenarios in the future?

The results of that housing study are coming out in September.