Las Vegas Sun

March 25, 2019

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LV City Council rejection stuns high-rise developer

A controversial plan for three high rises near downtown Las Vegas was rejected by the City Council on Wednesday, but not until after Councilman Lawrence Weekly blasted city staff for allegedly leading the developers to believe their project would be approved.

Following past meetings with Las Vegas city officials, including Weekly, top officials from the Atlanta-based development firm Ambling Development Co. were so confident their proposed 28-story buildings would be approved they went ahead and spent more than $2 million on the project and opened a Las Vegas office, Ambling President Rhett Holmes said.

Weekly said he was sickened by how the matter unfolded and demanded "an emergency meeting" with the city manager and office of Business Development staff to make sure such a scenario isn't repeated.

"Why are staff members giving people the impression it's a done deal? I'm very disappointed," Weekly said.

City Manager Doug Selby said he is looking into whether or not any city staff misled Ambling representatives.

"It greatly concerns me that staff may have misled a developer," Selby said. "It's not staff's role to indicate the council will approve a project. ... I hope it's an aberration."

Ambling's proposal to build three high rises on 16.8 acres near the intersection of Alta Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard had drawn sharp criticism from neighbors, including former Clark County School Board member Lois Tarkanian and District Judge Donald Mosley.

Ambling's representatives told the council that "the silent majority" supported their project. They also noted that the city Planning Commission supported it, and city staff recommended council approval of the project.

The opponents said the proposed 800-plus condominiums would create traffic problems and overcrowd schools, and they argued that the tall buildings would stare down at the surrounding homes and backyards.

Neighbors speaking during a Wednesday public hearing on the proposal said the three high rises just wouldn't fit next to their residential neighborhoods.

Mosley said he was fighting to save his neighborhood from projects that would bring too much traffic to the area. He also said the tall buildings would be too close to the shorter single-family homes in the area.

In the end, the council voted 5-0 to reject the project.

Mayor Oscar Goodman and Councilman Michael Mack abstained from the matter, and so were not present for the vote.

"It's a beautiful project, but at the wrong location," Weekly said.

Holmes and Ambling Senior Vice President Eddy Benoit said they met with Weekly three or four months ago, and he seemed to favor the project.

Weekly said he did meet with them a few months ago.

"I think I said it was a beautiful project, but I want you to spend time with the neighborhood," Weekly said.

Benoit also said that city staff, who they would not identify, coached and encouraged them every step of the way.

"There were no assurances given, but we were encouraged and told it would be a good deal for the neighborhood," Holmes said. "We're very disappointed"

Benoit said, "we'll take a loss of two-something million dollars.

Holmes said he did not know if the company would take legal action against the city.

Weekly said Ambling officials must have been misled to spend $2 million on the project, which Weekly said apparently included a nonrefundable payment toward the purchase of the property.

"I hope that doesn't discourage them from doing business in the city," Weekly said.

Holmes and Benoit said the company has other development projects for Las Vegas in the works, but they wouldn't divulge any details about those projects or say whether Wednesday's outcome would affect their plans.

"We don't even know where we stand," Benoit said.

In other City Council action in the same area, plans for a 35-story building near the Las Vegas Premium Outlets mall off Interstate 15 were approved by the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday.

The building, expected to include 413 condominiums plus about 35,000 square feet of commercial space, is one of five buildings 35 stories or higher that have been approved by the council but not built yet, city officials said.

"We think that with the future development, that area will be the most desirable area in Las Vegas," Michael Mirolla, managing director of Sandhurst Development, said. He said the 35-story building will be Sandhurst's first project in Las Vegas.

"There's the Related Company developing the 61 acres with us anchoring the southern portion, retail across the street, and access to I-15."

The city is currently negotiating with the Related Cos. to develop the 61 acres that was the former Union Pacific rail yards.

The Sandhurst building will be to the south of that, on about 3.2 acres on the north side of Iron Horse Court, between the railroad tracks and Grand Central Parkway.

The council voted 7-0 to approve the project.

Mirolla said the condominiums in the building will range in price from $249,000 to $2 million.