Monday, July 23, 2007 | 7:07 a.m.
When Jerry Wayne looks out from the balcony of his luxury condominium at Turnberry Place, he sees Strip hotels and , behind them, the big Nevada sky.
But he also sees cranes, ominous signs that soon, Wayne will see little except for the wall of a 22-story garage and convention center being built less than 100 feet from his spacious balcony.
It's part of the $2.9 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas going up at the corner of Las Vegas and Riviera boulevards.
"We won't be able to see the sky," said Wayne, who paid $649,000 for his eighth-floor unit in 2003.
Wayne and the owners of about 175 units at Turnberry Place were among the first to get in on the valley's high-rise condominium boom.
Now they are becoming some of the first to learn a tough lesson about living the high life near the Strip. In an area zoned for hotels and casinos and known for high-stakes gambling, there are few safe bets. A nice view is certainly not one of them.
Looking out her window at the steel beams rising next door, third-floor Turnberry resident Ann Stager shakes her head.
"You can spit on it," she says, disgusted enough to make it seem that she might actually try.
She and her sister, Julie Stapleton, both are widows. They put "everything they had" into the condo, Stapleton said.
"All of us are going to have the values of our property cut in half," she said.
But in Nevada, views are not protected by law. Turnberry residents were told when they purchased their condos that a hotel and casino project was planned next door. Still, they say they were told few details about the project and are only now realizing that they won't be looking down on a hotel's pool or lavish landscaping. They'll be looking at the wall of a parking garage topped with a convention center.
"They didn't tell us they were going to put the butt of it in our face," complained Turnberry resident Rick Coleman.
What really peeves many Turnberry residents is that Fontainebleau is being developed by former Mandalay Resort Group President Glenn Schaeffer and - get this - Turnberry Associates principal Jeffrey Soffer, the same man who developed Turnberry Place.
Initially, residents say, the fact that the developer of their condo complex also was involved in the project next door provided some comfort.
"We always expected something would be built there," Wayne said. "But we expected it would be integrated. Never would I have expected a wall obscuring every view I have."
Jerry Wendel, another Turnberry resident, put it less diplomatically .
"This is a developer without a conscience," he said.
Soffer did not return phone calls from the Sun, but e-mailed a statement through a spokeswoman.
"We're always sensitive to issues and concerns raised by our residents," he said. "In this case, however, buyers were apprised of the fact that a structure may be built on the site adjacent to Turnberry Place that could affect views. We believe they, like the county officials who approved the plans, will agree in time that the end result was built in an architecturally pleasing and tasteful manner."
Fontainebleau representatives point out that most casinos on the Strip have a parking garage in the back, as Fontainebleau will. And they note that the 230-foot parking and convention facility is not nearly as high as the 735-foot hotel tower.
Residents took their complaints to Clark County commissioners during a zoning meeting last Wednesday at which Fontainebleau representatives asked to increase the height of the garage and convention facility from 175 feet to 230 feet.
Less than 24 hours before the meeting, Turnberry residents hired an attorney, John Moran III, to make their case before commissioners. Moran argued that because the condos were a residential use, there had to be a 3-to- 1 setback ratio. Under that formula, the garage would have to be more than 70 feet from Turnberry's property line, rather than the currently planned 38 feet.
Fontainebleau lobbyists Greg Borgel and Chris Kaempfer, however, argued that because Turnberry and Fontainebleau are zoned H-1 for resort use, the required setback is only 10 feet. County planning staff agreed and commissioners approved the new height.
Turnberry residents say they plan to appeal the decision in District Court and seek a temporary halt to the Fontainebleau project.
"This is probably the first time there are residents this close to the Strip. There is no precedent," said Wendel, himself a developer. "We are going to go all the way with this."
Many residents say the developer tried to keep the Fontainebleau plans quiet.
Turnberry residents met June 13 with Schaeffer, Fontainebleau's chief executive, and Mike Sloan, a gaming consultant. Schaeffer and Sloan had no plans or renderings for the residents, according to residents at the meeting.
Some residents had heard there might be a garage next to Turnberry and that its height might be increased, so they asked Sloan and Schaeffer if the height would be increased. Sloan and Schaeffer said they didn't know what they were going to do. The next day, a letter was sent to the county asking for a height increase.
"They tried to keep us in the dark," said Coleman, one of the residents at the meeting.
Sloan, though, said residents were not intentionally misled.
"Both Glenn (Schaeffer) and I were unhappy no one had bothered to tell us," Sloan said. "There was no intention to conceal something."
County records show that Turnberry residents were notified twice last year about hearings on Fontainebleau's land - use plans, when the garage and convention facility was approved at 175 feet. Many residents say they never got the notices. But many Turnberry residents have second homes in other states or travel often for business.
In approving the height increase Wednesday, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district includes the project, said she felt compromises proposed by the developer were fair. Among other things, Fontainebleau promised to return to the commission for a design review of the garage facility so that residents would have a say in how it looks.
Many residents were disappointed with her decision.
"Clark County is always getting low marks for smart growth and sustainable development. This could have been a great catalyst for that," said Paul Murad, a real estate agent and developer whose $1.2 million unit on the fifth floor will lose all but a sliver of its view.
Giunchigliani said during Wednesday's meeting that, as a state assemblywoman in 2005, she proposed legislation regarding view corridors and shadowing impact rules, but it never went anywhere.
Development guidelines in New York, Boston and other large cities take such factors into consideration. In Las Vegas, with a growing urban center and more residential condominium towers coming online, problems such as those at Turnberry Place are only likely to increase.
But unless state or local officials tackle regulations not likely to make developers happy, Turnbery residents probably won't be the last ones whose panoramic vistas hang on a neighboring developer's good will.