No moratorium will be imposed on plans to develop the closed Badlands golf course into houses and condominiums after the Las Vegas City Council voted Wednesday afternoon only to direct city staff conduct a study into best practices for golf course development.
After two hours of public comment and discussion, the City Council decided to nix a six-month moratorium on applications to redevelop any golf course or other common open spaces in the city proposed by just-elected Councilman Steve Seroka, who ousted incumbent Bob Beers in a municipal election earlier this year that focused heavily on the Badlands development issue. All of the council members except Seroka and Bob Coffin expressed serious reservations that a citywide moratorium would send the wrong message to developers, stifle economic growth in the city and is unnecessary in order for city staff to develop standards under which future golf courses should be developed.
In a 5-2 vote, council members directed staff to study the recommendations proposed in the Seroka-backed resolution, such as requiring future developers of golf courses or common open spaces to create a public participation program to facilitate outreach efforts to the surrounding community and complete an environmental assessment worksheet, and return to the council within the next six months for possible adoption. Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Councilwoman Michele Fiore, though generally supportive of having city staff look into the issue, voted against the motion on the grounds that they believed it was proper procedure to vote on the initial proposal, which was a staff study coupled with a six-month moratorium.
Goodman expressed serious reservations that the word “moratorium” would dissuade developers from coming to the city amid a period of economic redevelopment and revitalization. She noted that the issue of whether to develop the Badlands golf course has been before the city council for the last two years, saying she assumed that city staff was already looking into the sorts of recommendations proposed in the resolution and questioning what kind of a difference six more months of study would make.
“This is a town that needs to keep growing and attracting at this particular time and working hard to make up for what’s happened during the recession,” Goodman said.
Both Goodman and Fiore urged the city council to take a “clean” vote on the moratorium before moving onto the question of whether city staff should look into the issue. Going further, Fiore said she wouldn’t be comfortable even with asking city staff to look into the recommendations until she had gone through them with a “fine tooth comb,” noting that any changes to the way golf courses are developed would likely have an impact on the Silverstone Golf Club development in her ward.
“This moratorium affects Badlands, but it affects all of Ward 6 and I am adamantly opposed to all of this,” Fiore said. “This particular language — when it looks like a duck and smells like a duck and walks like a duck it’s a duck.”
The goal of the moratorium, Seroka explained, was to give city staff the time they needed to gather input from developers, homeowners and the rest of the community and develop an “equitable and fair process” to guide the city with golf course redevelopment plans moving forward. Seroka, a political newcomer, criticized Beers during the election for being “too cozy” with the developer and for picking a side.
“My concern is for the developers and my concern is for the homeowners, but I think what we’ve had here unfortunately is a failure in policy,” Seroka said. “That’s why we’ve had so much back and forth discussion is because we didn’t have a policy.”
Yohan Lowie, the chief executive officer of Badlands golf course developer EHB Companies, went so far as to ask Serkoa during the City Council meeting to recuse himself from any further votes pertaining to Badlands, saying that the newcomer ran on a platform to “condemn” his property and that he is only interested in homeowner’s rights. Seroka has pushed back against those assertions by saying that he hopes to strike a balance between the interests of the homeowners surrounding the golf course and the developer.
Despite council members concerns about the broad application of the moratorium to other golf courses and open spaces across the city, Coffin, who said it was his understanding that the resolution was drafted “with blinders on,” said that the moratorium doesn’t “at all affect the entire city of Las Vegas.” He called the resolution “harmless” and said that it would only help the city set forth the development principles they believe in.
“It is not anti-development,” Coffin said. “It is not the end of life as we know it.”
The council voted down a series of proposals in late June that would have allowed the construction of 61 homes on 34 acres of the now-defunct golf course. A little more than a month later, the council voted 4-3 to deny the most recent set of the developer’s plans for the course.
Though council members’ questions largely focused on the citywide implications, much of the public comment both for and against the proposed moratorium zeroed in on the impact on Badlands development.
Stephanie Allen, one of the attorneys representing the developer, criticized the council for putting the item on the agenda right before a holiday weekend, arguing that proper notice had not been given to the homeowners and other interested parties. According to the city clerk, the item was posted on the agenda notice last Tuesday at 4 p.m., more than three working days’ notice as required by Nevada’s open meeting law.
“Frankly, this smells and looks like you’re trying to push something through without the property owners and neighbors that are very significantly impacted by this,” Allen told the council.
Chris Kaempfer, another attorney representing the developer who also lives in the Queensridge development woven through the course, told the council that approving the moratorium would only harden positions. Another homeowner said that appraisers had difficulty assessing the value of her home with future of the golf course being in limbo and that once they did, they valued her house at exactly what she had paid for it when she purchased it in 1998.
Other residents, including Queensridge homeowners’ association board member Elaine Wenger-Roesener, urged the council the adopt the moratorium, saying that the proposed requirements would ensure that developers respect the community’s input when redeveloping golf courses or other open spaces. Gaming attorney Frank Schreck, another Queensridge homeowner, said that the new process could eliminate the “torture, stress, cost and expense” the community has experienced with Badlands.
“We’re not against development, just the process we’ve been using,” Schreck said.
Even though the moratorium was ultimately rejected by the council, the developer and an attorney representing him still expressed concern at the end of the meeting that the City Council would use its authority to delay any future votes on the Badlands development until the city staff completes its study in six months. The developer recently filed a pre-submittal application to continue to move the development process forward.
City attorney Brad Jerbic acknowledged that the council has the authority to decide to apply whatever policies they ultimately approve retroactively to the Badlands application.
“That’s exactly what we’re worried about and we think is a violation of our land rights and a circumvention of the motion that was on the table here,” Lowie said. “This is a moratorium in disguise.”