Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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It’s par for the course in Vegas: Links may give way to houses

To Dick Weisbart, the golf course that surrounds his back yard is as much a part of his home as his kitchen sink.

The house is built around the view, a stroke of green on Southern Nevada's brown palette. The living room features two sets of huge sliding glass doors that face the golf course. A six-stool bar upstairs opens up to a balcony with a panoramic view of the course. Scenes from a movie were filmed at the home and golf course in the mid-1990s - "Casino," starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone.

Be a shame to lose it all to a housing development, Weisbart says, but that's precisely what might happen.

Weisbart's home and about 180 others surrounding the Las Vegas National Golf Course near Desert Inn Road and Eastern Avenue are in danger of losing their verdant setting. The course is being sold, with the transaction expected to close next month.

Details are hazy. John Knott, a broker with CB Richard Ellis, said he is representing the seller, Santa Monica, Calif.-based National Golf Properties. He would not reveal the buyer, who Knott said had no firm plans about what to do with the golf course.

Knott, who said he might have a share of the ownership, would not comment Monday about whether homes might be built on the course.

But residents have been asking questions and hearing things that disturb them enough to meet tonight to discuss the sale.

Weisbart, a retired attorney, doesn't know details of the sale, but he said Tuesday that he spoke recently with surveyors working near his back yard.

"They indicated they were surveying it for the purpose of developing homes," he said.

Clark County Planning Manager Chuck Pulsipher said no plans have been submitted, but the parties to the deal have been meeting with county officials.

"People have contacted us, but most of those conversations are privileged at this point," Pulsipher said.

The golf course is zoned for as many as five single-family residential units per acre. That means if a developer wanted to build homes at that density, county officials would not have much say beyond determining whether the development adhered to the law.

However, if a developer wanted variances or waivers, the planning commission and probably Clark County commissioners would be asked to grant discretionary approval.

Residents are scrambling to figure out what options they have. The stakes are high, they say.

"We figure there will be a $20 million loss in property values" for the entire neighborhood, said Charles Bennett, whose home backs up to the fifth hole.

He and his wife bought the house last year and renovated the kitchen and added a sliding glass door to the back of the house. They designed the kitchen to complement the view, he said.

The monetary loss would be only part of the cost to the community, residents say. The golf course turns into a de facto park in the evenings and a wash that runs through it draws ducks and cranes.

Another resident, David Caldwell, notes that almost all the windows in his home face the golf course. "The whole focus of the house is the view," Caldwell said.

Like others, Caldwell assumed the golf course would be a permanent complement to his home when he bought it six years ago. He remembers asking his real estate agent about the golf course.

"She said, 'It's been here for like 50 years. They'll never sell it,' " he said.

Caldwell enjoys his work as general manager for the "Chippendales" show at the Rio and as a production consultant for "Stomp" and "The Producers. But his golf course home is what keeps him here, he said.

"It is clearly going to be a big fight," he said.

Residents who attend tonight's meeting will be looking for help from County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who began representing the district in January. Her campaign included a mailer that showed her standing, arms crossed, in front of a towering hotel or condo development. "If I wouldn't vote to put it in my back yard, I won't vote to put it in yours," the mailer said.

"I personally don't feel it should be developed. It's old Las Vegas. I have some real concerns with it," she said.

Indeed, the course has an interesting history. In addition to its appearance in "Casino," it was a favorite hangout of Frank Sinatra. Tiger Woods won his first professional tournament at the course in 1996.

But Giunchigliani might not have much say in the matter.

"I can't stop what a private person does, but I can make it much easier or harder," she said.

After receiving calls from residents this week, she called Knott on Tuesday. He told her the buyer would continue running the property as a golf course while "working with neighbors to see if there is some compatibilities they could come up with," she said.

For residents, that's not too reassuring.

"It all depends on our commissioners and what kind of precedent they want to set," Caldwell said. "What's more important? History or development."

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