At the Lyon County Commission meeting January 2, the commissioners voted 4-1 to grant a request from Comstock Mining Inc (“CMI”) to modify the county Master Plan and change the zoning which would allow pit mining in and adjacent to Silver City. Four of the Commissioners ignored the recommendation of the Planning Commission and the express wishes of the citizens of Silver City and voted without explanation to abandon precedent and acquiesce to the company’s desires.
On January 31 the Comstock Residents Association (“CRA”) filed a complaint/petition with the 3rd District Court in Yerington asking that the decision be reversed.
“We now have an opportunity for an impartial judicial review of the action taken at the hearing on January 2nd,” said Silver City resident and CRA Board member Gayle Sherman. “What we have asked for from the beginning of this decision process was a level playing field when it comes to land use decisions. We as residents have the right to have our opinions and our rights as property owners considered. But the January 2nd hearing was far from a level playing field — CMI purchased its favorable decision and we are requesting that the decision be overturned.”
Silver City resident Joe McCarthy was equally scathing. “This decision by the Lyon County Commissioners has all the markings of an arrangement concocted at the last minute to ensure approval of this so-called ‘compromise’ application. The commission ignored 75 percent of the citizens of Silver City, the Silver City Advisory Board, the Planning Commission and the staff report. The decision certainly compromised confidence in our local government. Several Commissioners chose power and influence at the expense of a Lyon County community. To allow industrial scale mining by special use permit within the Silver City town limits violates the lowest standard of land use planning and community development.”
CRA attorney John Marshall filed the suit “. . . because Lyon County provided no basis to depart from its prior precedent, acted contrary to law and without proper notice and record support, and was unduly influenced.” The 35-page document (http://www.comstockresidents.org/pdf/complaint_filed1-31-2014.pdf) notes the procedural errors made by the Commissioners, details the history of the Master Plan, its creation and modification over the nearly 50 years it has been in place and relied upon.
The complaint points out the $17,500 contributed to successful candidate Bob Hastings — well over half his total cash contributions — set an amazing record for cash contributions to Commission candidates, about three and a half times the average from a single source. The complaint also noticed the company’s employment of family and friends of county officials, including Commissioners Keller and Hastings.
It discusses at some length the secret meeting of Commissioners Keller and Mortensen with CMI officials and contractors on New Year’s Day. It states: “Lyon County BOC violated both the Nevada Open Meeting Law requirements by failing to agendize the action actually taken and deliberating on the action outside of a public hearing.” Thus CRA contends it’s void.
Thus the basis for the First Cause of Action is Violation of the Open Meeting Law. The Second Cause of Action is Denial of Due Process, because both Keller and Hastings took advantage of their position to reward their benefactor, CMI, and by doing so violated the rights of the Silver City residents. They should have recused themselves, but did not, and therefore the vote is void on a second count.
The Third Cause of Action is for Abuse of Discretion, in that the Commission’s vote constitutes Spot Zoning, which is contrary to the Master Plan.
In the Fourth Cause of Action the Commissioners are charged with violating NRS 278.220(4), which requires them to return these requests to the Planning Commission for modification and reconsideration. Instead they voted to approve them and then sent them back for a new report.
The Complaint/Petition ends with the request that the court rule in CRA’s favor, that the Causes of Action valid, and that Lyon County’s approval of the CMI requests is null and void. It asks for an injunction preventing the county from going forward on its erroneous path, and for the payment of costs incurred in bringing the suit, including legal expenses.
“Our objective in entering into this lawsuit is to protect the Virginia City National Historic Landmark and the historic towns within it,” said CRA President Robin Cobbey, a resident of Gold Hill, upcanyon in Storey County. “Our focus now is on protecting the town of Silver City and its residents from open pit mining. An industrial operation of this magnitude so close to residences will destroy the quality of life, property values, and health of a small but vibrant community, much the way we’ve seen it happen in Gold Hill, only even more so.”
Silver City resident Theo McCormick resigned from the Lyon County School Board because of the Commissioners’ vote. “I find I must spend my time defending my town from open pit mining and raising money to fight Lyon County government,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. “This unfortunate decision by the Lyon County Commissioners leaves me no time for my duties as a School Board trustee.
“I want to be clear to everyone,” he wrote. “I am proud of the Lyon County School District and would love to continue serving on the School Board, but my time and money must now be spent fighting for the survival of my home town.”
The Comstock Residents Association is a community focused public interest group representing the residents of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City and Dayton, with a common interest in preserving the integrity and sustainability of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark and the quality of life in the Comstock communities it embraces.