Sunday, April 23, 2006 | 7:27 a.m.
Leave it to a casino company, a business built on numbers and how to manipulate them, to explain how 227 really is no more than 198. And win while doing it.
A new 227-foot high condominium project planned near Charleston Boulevard and the Las Vegas Beltway in Summerlin, adjacent to the newly opened Red Rock Resort, is a slap in the face - a very high slap in the face - to some nearby residents and environmentalists.
Lisa Mayo DeRiso, a board member of Scenic Nevada, argued before the Clark County Commission last week that the project violates the point of a hard-fought compromise that residents reached with Station Casinos three years ago.
Under that deal, the company scaled back plans for its proposed 300-foot tall Red Rock, which opened Tuesday, to below 200 feet in height. In doing so, the company acceded to the wishes of those who argued that the height restriction would help preserve the beauty of the area, located just a few miles outside the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Last week, however, Charleston Station LLC, a company owned mostly by Station Casinos, won zoning approval from commissioners to build a high-rise condo three stories taller than the neighboring 198-foot Red Rock tower. Paul Larsen, an attorney representing Charleston Station, successfully argued that the project is no taller than the 198-foot tall resort - when measured from sea level.
DeRiso, though, called that a deal breaker.
"I thought we had a deal," she said, adding that other developers, including the Howard Hughes Corp., have honored the 200-foot limit.
Activist Carolyn Edwards also criticized the use of sea level elevation to justify the condo project's height.
"Is this a sweetheart deal?" she asked commissioners.
"What's fair? What's consistent? We can't trust you if you make this exception."
Larsen, however, attacked DeRiso and Edwards, noting that neither lives near the project. No other residents spoke out against the project during the zoning meeting.
"They have no interest in this site," Larsen said. "They are desperately trying to stay relevant. They don't have a dog in this fight."
It was up to Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald, a former Station Casinos board member, to propose an up or down vote on Station's proposal because the project is in her district.
"This is not an unusual request," she said, referring to the use of elevation rather than building height. "The spirit of the agreement is that the casino would be the tallest building."
After she pointed out that county staff and the planning commission recommended approval of the project, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the 227-foot height. Commission Chairman Rory Reid left the meeting several agenda items before the Red Rock issue and returned immediately after the vote. If he had not left, Reid probably would have had to abstain because Larsen is a colleague in Reid's law firm, Lionel, Sawyer and Collins.
Just how fast is Clark County's infrastructure being built out?
Fast enough to make it difficult for county commissioners to keep up.
The county Aviation Department asked commissioners last week for permission to begin negotiating a contract with an engineering company to open a yet-unused third tunnel in the Airport Connector Tunnel at McCarran International Airport.
County Aviation Director Randall Walker said car traffic would exceed capacity before another airport could be built. But the addition of two lanes in the unused center tunnel, called the bore, would ease congestion and eliminate some mergers on the connector, which currently directs traffic between McCarran and Interstate 215 via two tunnels - one with three northbound lanes and another with three southbound lanes, he said.
The presence of the unused tunnel apparently came as a surprise to some.
"You refer to the center bore," said Reid. "Does it exist?"
Walker explained that it does, indeed, exist, noting that when his department designed the connector in the early 1990s, it included the center tunnel for future expansion.
"I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something," Reid said.
Commissioners gave permission for negotiations to begin with the Louis Berger Group. The new two-lane tunnel could open in 2011, Walker said. The project, including costs for paving and ramps, has an estimated $78 million price tag. No decisions have been made about how to finance it.
Yvonne Atkinson Gates sat with her lips pursed in an amused smile as several West Las Vegas residents criticized her for not adequately representing her district during Tuesday's commission meeting.
A trio of women showed photos of homeless people on the streets of the economically depressed West Las Vegas, just northwest of downtown Las Vegas, and photos of a swank area in Summerlin where they said Atkinson Gates owns property. They accused her of not holding community meetings to listen to her constituents.
"I don't know how you can live here and represent people over there," said Beatrice Turner. "You can sit there and smile and smirk, but we got some people praying."
After the meeting, Atkinson Gates defended herself.
She said a of couple months ago, she held a community meeting about redistricting.
"You know how many people showed up? Zero," she said. "That's why I stopped having them."
She said because much of her district lies in incorporated Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, she doesn't have as much sway in her district compared to other commissioners.
"There are only 9,000 people in my district in unincorporated Clark County," she said.
"I do not have control over the city of Las Vegas or North Las Vegas."
As for her residency, she said she owns about four properties, but that her primary residence is in her district.