NARA IS A “RURAL NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVERATION OVERLAY DISTRICT”
What does this mean? Where does it come from? How is it different from “urban” criteria? How does it qualify as a recognized diverse lifestyle of living within the City of Las Vegas?
The concepts of Rural Neighborhood Preservation and Overlay District did not come about by magic. They have their roots within the legal Nevada Revised Statutes, and are adopted for use within the City of Las Vegas UDC (Unified Development Code) and Title 19 as ordinance. There are many lifestyle choices within the city, such as apartments, condos, senior citizen communities, mobile home parks, homeowner associations, planned communities, and rural neighborhood preservation neighborhoods.
These diverse residential living options are defined and governed by Title 19 criteria to insure community standards centered around the 7 elements of residential zoning (1) Character, (2) Culture, (3) Identity, (4) Integrity, (5) Lifestyle, (6) Property Values, and (7) Safety Concerns. Title 19 is a land use ordinance, and for residential living the focus is on urban and suburban compatibility within the overall City of Las Vegas boundaries.
Rural Preservation Neighborhoods
Rural Preservation neighborhoods in Las Vegas are defined as land parcels of half acre or larger, and comprised of a group of 10 or more to qualify as a RNP (Rural Neighborhood Preservation) community by ordinance. With this status comes criteria that define the land use and lifestyle within a rural oriented context and standard outside that of urban living, and accountability to maintain the intent and purpose of this special zoning category.
For information on the Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) roots of Rural Preservation refer to NRS 278.0177.
Overlay District Status
The City of Las Vegas has many “Overlay Districts”. At present there are 12 Overlay Districts listed in Title 19, and certainly more will be added in the future. Some examples are: the Medical District, Downtown Casino District, Gaming Overlay District, Historic Designation District, Airport Overlay, and our Rural Preservation District. These are considered “special purpose districts” with standards and guidelines established to support and reinforce their specific intent and purpose. These areas, defined by their special characteristics”, require special zoning characteristics and zoning regulations to establish and maintain the character of those areas”. The ordinance goes on to suggest that they, “may include as applicable, special regulations regarding land use, buildings and structures, building height, building site areas, setback requirements, landscaping, streetscaping and aesthetic characteristics, and any others item or concern regulated by this Title”. The word “special” is used 4X within Title 19.10.010 to reinforce that they require professional consideration outside Title 19 urban criteria and standards to support their designated objective(s).
History of Rural Neighborhood Preservation (RNP)
Becoming an Overlay District (RNP-O)
In August and September of 2005 “Rural Preservation Neighborhoods” was a feature news topic of the day, and becoming a household word of general interest. The Las Vegas Sun ran feature articles on how the City of Las Vegas was “Poised to Designate Rural Areas”, and “Rural Preservation Districts Given Official Confidence Vote.” County Assessor Mark Schofield said that the purpose of this district, proposed by a two member council recommending committee of Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian and Councilman Steve Wolfson, was to protect the rural lifestyle of hundreds of city homeowners. Supporters argued that “the extra layer of protection will preserve the integrity of homes on half acre lots that are being threatened by the encroachment of higher density growth that in some cases surrounds them”.
Tom Perrigo, city planning manager, said that the new ordinance language was taken from the old NRS law, and that neighborhoods were identified based on whether they met the qualifications as outlined in a state rural preservation law in effect from 1999 to May of 2004 that requires rural preservation neighborhoods have at least 10 such contiguous homes but allows individual half-acre property homes within 330 feet of such clusters to be included. This requires “adequate buffer areas, adequate screening and an orderly and efficient transition of land uses”. The word “adequate” was not defined. It was noted that Henderson, North Las Vegas and the County had designated preservation neighborhoods.
Mr. Chuck Pulsipher, planning manager for Clark County said, “Rural preservation neighborhoods are designed to give property owners and buyers an idea of what to expect and what not to expect, such as a high density neighbor. It establishes the ground rules to property owners and developers.” He went on to say that, “This is a national movement that started out to create rural areas for horses and livestock. In practice it has become codified neighborhood protection”. Also he stated that, It wasn’t necessarily to protect the wealthy, but rather to protect a rural lifestyle enjoyed by a number of people. He also said that with land being more affordable back then many of the people “…were of modest income who must wanted a peaceful place to ride their horses”.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, was an advocate for rural preservation. She encouraged the city to create its own rural preservation neighborhoods and helped draft the proposed ordinance, stating, “People invest in these homes because they want to maintain a rural lifestyle and need to have it protected.” Mike Malone, then President of NARA and a former Nevada senator added that, “Rural means, No. 1, being able to have animals. I have neighbors with horses, turkeys, chickens, ducks and goats”. Mark Edgel (also a past NARA president) stated that, “With rural preservation neighbors they (developers) will have to take notice of established residents concerns”. Steve Ross in a statement said that, “My whole platform in running for this position was protecting rural areas from growth, and that is not going to change”. Linda Myers and Ed. Goble from NARA who worked with city planners on the issue were pleased with city planner Tom Perrigos contribution that with developers, “…now there must be good cause shown to make that change.” Tom Collins complemented the city for “taking the time to do this for the neighbors”, and that it closely resembled measures in place in other local jurisdictions.
Opposition from developers centered on the argument that this was an effort to improve the value of the land in the interest of more affluent communities specifically citing the Scotch 80’s, and Rancho Circle where Mayor Goodman lived, and areas that included Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian and Councilman Steve Ross. In addition it would certainly inhibit some aspects of high density development zoning applications with the requirement to “show good cause” and to be accountable for “adequate buffering”. That being said, Monica Caruso, spokes-woman for the Southern Nevada Homebuilders Association acquiesced that despite her organizations opposition to the concept of rural preservation districts, the homebuilders would not fight the city’s proposed ordinance because the zoning conforms to the city’s 2003 master plan and the old state law.
Epilogue: Chief Deputy City Attorney Val Steed advised that Mayor Goodman and City Council Members Tarkanian and Ross were allowed to vote on the agenda item, “because the ordinance would affect more than a single neighborhood”. With the passage of Rural Neighborhood Preservation as an Overlay District, there was an expectation that these designated communities would enjoy a legal status of offering an additional lifestyle for residential living within the City of Las Vegas. “Adequate buffering”, an “orderly and efficient transition of land use”, the requirement for developers to “show good cause”, and the “special” identity designated 4X within the Overlay Ordinance gave RNP residents assurance that there would be legal protection to fall back in the event of aggressive untoward developer initiatives. Although the then considered high end real estate communities of Rancho Circle and Scotch 80 were included in the ordinance, Bonanza Village, NARA, and other RNP areas predominately in the northwest area of the valley certainly included a very middle class profile for this agenda item and would come to represent the long term intent and purpose of the ordinance. In the long run, history would document that the most supportive aspect of Rural Preservation Overlay District would not be its legal status, but the quality of commitment on the part of City Council RNP Ward representation and City Council representation at the dais to adhere to its original intent and purpose and be accountable to their RNP resident constituents.
A cornerstone for safeguarding Rural Preservation within the context of the “7 Elements of Residential Zoning” referred to previously is the character and quality of residential and commercial development that is being proposed to be built next to it. This classic zoning issue perhaps takes up more time at Planning and City Council meetings than any other agenda item topic.
In regards to commercial buffering, NARA’s peripheral Rancho/Gowan Business Park and the almost historic El Jen Convalescent Care Hospital (nursing home) & Retirement Center have proven to be quintessential examples of “adequate” C-1 commercial buffering, for all the right reasons, with basically zero impact on the adjacent R-E zoned residential RNP neighborhood and complementary from an aesthetic point of view.
“Adequate buffering” problems typically result from developers applying for a project variance adjacent to an established Rural Preservation Overlay District community with a much higher zoning status down the Title 19 hierarchy of zoning categories . Senior Planner Andy Reed commented on how the proposed ordinance leaves much room for interpretation as to how close higher density projects can be built to the rural preservation areas, and that the ordinance requires “adequate buffer areas, adequate screening and an orderly and efficient transition of land uses”. The word “adequate” is not defined. In hindsight, it is suspect that the subjective wording of “adequate” may have been a “legal toy” for developers to use with their agenda variance applications.
That being said, there is an ordinance in place for an “orderly and efficient transit-ion of land use” with the established Title 19 residential zoning hierarchy, which is as follows:
R-E – Residential Estates (1/2 acre lots) – “NARA lots”
RPD-3 – (1/3 acre lots) – eliminated in 2011 per developer input.
R-D – Single Family Residential (1/4 acre, 10,000 sq. ft. minimum lots)
R-1 – Single Family Restricted (6,500 sq. ft. minimum lots)
R-SL – Single Family Small Lot Residential (4,500 sq. ft. minimum lots)
R-CL – Single Family Compact Lot (3,000 sq. ft. minimum lots)
R-TH – Single Family Attached (1,600 sq, ft. mininum lots)
(Note: This system will be replaced by “Form Based Coding” in the near future!)
So, by definition, an orderly and efficient “transition” of new zoning adjacent to RNP communities should accommodate a gradual decrease in developer zoning from R-E to the next higher density of R-D (1/4 acre parcels), and then R-1, and so on until the applied for zoning request is reached. Applications for a variance to this “orderly and efficient transition of land use” need to go before the Planning Commission and City Council “to show good cause” within the 7 Elements of Residential Zoning, and in compliance and support with the RNP original intent and purpose.
In regards to the 2011 elimination of RPD-3 (1/3 acre parcels ) as a zoning transition category, this was per developer input with no residential consideration as a cultural, integrity or legal consequence, or original NRS intent and purpose in support of adjacent R-E/RNP communities. Recall and consider that in some Nevada areas 1/3 acre parcels are included in their definition of Rural Preservation! RPD-3, 1/3 acre residences and neighborhoods, make ideal transitional zoning from RE/RNP for all the right reasons. As you can see with the elimination of 1/3 acre lots, and now 1/4 acre lots the transitional standard, a developer now has the ability to skip the now 1/4 acre category, and apply for a “cultural/identity” zoning transition zoning of R-1…or less as an “adequate buffer” and transitional zoning next to an established Rural Preservation Overlay District (by ordinance) neighborhood! And smaller lot size is often justified with the inclusion of “common grounds” as part of residential “ownership”. Historically, this is where we have seen prominent local law firms do their “best work” with special access to city hall, networking, and the ability to “out resource” residential efforts to work within the system. And this is where a supportive councilman/ councilwoman has an opportunity to be an advocate for Rural Preservation, an educator at the dais for RNP as an Overlay District, and present as a valued constituent representative.
Support from the Ward 5 RNP City Council Representative and the City Council Dais
It is the intent of the Rural Preservation Overlay District to
1. Ensure that the rural character of each Rural Preservation Overlay District is Preserved.
2. Unless a rural preservation neighborhood is located within 330 ft. of an existing or proposed street or highway that is more than 99 ft. wide, maintain the rural character of the area development as a low density residential development.
3. Provide adequate buffer areas, adequate screening, and an orderly and efficient transition of land uses, excluding raising or keeping animals commercially or
4. Establish a basis for the modification of standards for the development of infra-structure to maintain the rural character of the rural preservation neighborhood
C. Certain Rezoning Requests – For any rezoning request for vacant property that is located within 330 ft. of a parcel within the Overlay District, the City Council. for good cause shown, may approve a greater density or intensity of use than that which exists within the Overlay District.
The Special Purpose Districts, Districts, and other area-specific standards and guidelines established in this Chapter:
A. Are to be used in areas of the City which have special characteristics and require special zoning regulations to establish and maintain the character of those areas.
B. May include, as applicable, special reg-ulations regarding land use, buildings and structures, building heights, build-ing site areas, setback requirements, landscaping, streetscaping, and aesthetic characteristics, and any other item or concern regulated by this Title.