Friday, Oct. 24, 2003 | 11:26 a.m.
Station Casinos' effort to build a 300-foot tower in Summerlin as a "jewel in the crown" of its Las Vegas properties cleared a major hurdle early today.
The Clark County Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the controversial resort. The commission sided with about 100 Red Rock Station, many from trade unions that could benefit from the construction. They had to wait until 12:30 a.m. for the vote. About 40 opponents of the tower, many from residential areas nearby the planned resort, also attended the more than five-hour meeting.
The Clark County Commission, however, will make the final decision about the project. Station Casinos is scheduled to bring the issue to the commission Dec. 3.
Only Planning Commissioner Bernard Malamud voted against the project, citing his concern how the project would affect the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area about 3 miles to the west. He echoed concerns of residents and community activists from throughout the valley that the planned resort's central tower would affect views of the hills and mountains from the city.
"Maybe it will only obscure a little bit for some of us, but I am really concerned about the precedent," Malamud said, referring to the fact that at least four more resorts are included in master plans within a few miles from the Red Rock Station site in Summerlin.
"I think the preservation of Red Rock is the issue here," he said.
But Doug Malan and four other planning commissioners rejected that argument, arguing that Summerlin Center, designed for years to be the economic and employment center of the sprawling community on the west side, is unique.
"There is no precedent," Malan said. "I don't know of any other area that is similar."
Planning commission Chairman Will Watson said the site makes sense, bringing jobs close to homes and avoiding the traffic and long commutes that more construction on the Strip would bring.
"It's incumbent upon modern cities to plan better so we don't have cities like Chicago with just one major employment district," Watson said. "This is a bold move."
Joining Watson and Malan were Kirby Trumbo and Chris Finlay. Commissioner Charley Johnson was absent from the meeting.
The decision did not please many who had spent hours in the crowded meeting.
Residents said they counted on the 100-foot height restriction, a height granted for such gaming projects, when they bought their homes. They also said the height requested by Station Casinos would affect their property values.
Residents also argued that two more 200-foot towers to house timeshare apartments are expected to join the 300-foot tower, creating a staggered skyline of skyscrapers near their residential neighborhoods, and that at least two more casinos would join the 90,000-square-foot casino planned by Station Casinos.
"There are two more sites to the south in Clark County," said Carolyn Edwards, a Spring Valley neighborhood activist and one of the opponents to the project. "You will set a precedent.
"One casino might not destroy the view. But three will."
Gabriel Lither, an attorney and resident of Manor Wood, a neighborhood about a half-mile from the proposed casino, echoed Edwards and other speakers who said Station Casinos has been a good corporate citizen of Las Vegas -- but has changed its ways in the planning of the Red Rock Station. The planned casino, bigger than many on the Strip, does not belong in Summerlin, Lither said.
"If they wanted a more intensive use, I suggest they should have bought a property on the Strip," he said.
Supporters were equally as passionate.
Station Casinos' team told the planning commission that the resort the company plans for Summerlin would be a major employment site on the Las Vegas Valley's west side, part of an urban core planned since the first master plan for the area was approved by the county in 1996.
The county approved the zoning for the resort in 2002, Station Casinos' urban planner Jeff Rhoads told the commission.
"The casino is a key component of the employment hub at Summerlin Center," Rhoads said, part of a balance of work, homes and recreation planned for the center. "It will be a full service component of Summerlin's downtown."
Joining the construction union members in support of the project were dozens of Station Casino employees, some residents from the Summerlin area and members of Station Casino's comp club. Many of the supporters arrived on a bus the company brought in for the meeting.
Much of the discussion centered on the potential impact on the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area a few miles to the west. Opponents fear that the tower will affect the view of the canyon and the Spring Mountains from the east.
Greg Borgel, a land-use consultant representing Station Casinos, said the tower would not be visible from the canyon's visitors center or any area of the canyon other than the mountain tops circling the canyon base. He said views from the east would not be blocked by the casino tower because other buildings, already approved by the city of Las Vegas, will block the views.
"Although this tower is tall at 300 feet, it is not interfering with any views," Borgel said.
Rhoads said the issue is not the same as the controversial effort earlier this year to build thousands of homes on top of Blue Diamond Hill. He said he supported that effort to block the construction of homes on top the hill, surrounded on three sides by the national conservation area.
"We believe strongly with what we've designed here," Rhoads here. "We don't see this project as just another casino."
The zoning allows at least 1,000 rooms -- the company is asking the county for the right to build 1,500 rooms. Eliminating a "very elegant and slender" tower would necessitate construction of "barracks-type" buildings to house the hotel rooms, Rhoads said.
Such a design is not what Station Casinos has in mind for the site. Borgel and Rhoads said the casino would be more than a neighborhood casino; it is to be a resort-destination similar to the Palms or the Rio. It would eclipse the other six Station properties, including the newest, Green Valley Ranch Station in Henderson.
"This is intended to be far and away the best," Borgel said.
It would complement the other projects destined for Summerlin Center, the suburb's "downtown," including the other high towers already anticipated for the area.
"This will be a downtown that will be like a mini-downtown Chicago or that kind of urban center," Borgel said.
Opponents promised that they would bring more troops to the county commission meeting in four weeks.
"We hope we get more people out," Edwards said.
The usually influential Culinary Union, which is opposing the project by the non-union Station Casinos, had only a handful of people at the meeting.