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August 22, 2017

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Amid Suburbia, an island of serenity

Without lawyers or a homeowners association, enclave’s residents struggle to keep booming Henderson at bay


Leila Navidi

Earl Hodge walks Snoopy through black rock desert in Serene Country Estates, an enclave of homes on large lots between St. Rose Parkway, Eastern Avenue and Interstate 215 in Henderson. Hodge leads an ad-hoc group fighting development.

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This is a neighborhood without screwy rules about where you can park or what color you can paint your home.

It also is a neighborhood that’s considered a rural preservation district, the word “rural” tinged with Las Vegas meaning. It’s rural in the sense that there’s a Wal-Mart less than a mile away. But you might find a desert tortoise closer than that.

The residents of Serene Country Estates think they have something special in the neighborhood they call “the enclave,” situated in the triangle formed by Interstate 215, St. Rose Parkway and Eastern Avenue.

Although it’s hemmed in by Henderson development, in a commercial area thick with strip malls and big-box stores, it feels a world apart, its reality reflecting its rural zoning.

There are only about 160 homes — roughly three dozen more than in 2000 — and plenty of open land and available lots.

In the booming 1990s, the residents started banding together to fight proposed development at every corner to preserve a way of life that includes untouched desert, an area protected from the world that exists within walking distance.

“Many people don’t know this is in here and we’d like to keep it that way,” said Earl Hodge, a retiree who is vice chairman of the Serene Country Estates Action Committee, a group of residents dedicated to keeping the community as it is — and doing so without lawyers, a homeowners association or too much cash.

To keep things as they are, the residents find themselves gearing up for another Serene-against-the-outside-world battle — this time against a plan to build a hotel in their midst.

It was the action committee, one of only two official neighborhood associations recognized by Henderson, that pushed hard to get the city to develop a neighborhood plan in 2000 that specified a minimum of half-acre lots and extremely limited commercial development inside the enclave.

The problem, however, is that not all of the enclave is in Henderson. A small section to the north is in Clark County — and that’s where developers want to build the five-story, 243-room hotel.

So the community will fight that just as it has fought other proposals that have stormed its borders in the past decade.

“Once in a while we get an issue that we feel is threatening to our way of life,” Hodge said.

Past challenges have included plans for shopping centers and properties rented as party houses on weekends. The action committee, a group of about 12 residents, has battled them all and won most of the time.

It did have to give way to the recent development of a water treatment plant and has negotiated limiting commercial development to office parks on the outskirts. There never will be any taverns or 24-hour businesses.

There’s also no homeowners association.

The group runs on residents’ donations. When someone moves in, the group sends a letter and adds the address to the mailing list for the occasional community newsletter.

The lack of an HOA is a blessing and a curse. There’s nobody policing minutiae such as the height of grass, the color of shutters or how many vehicles are in the driveway. And there’s no check to write to the HOA.

But the community trustees have no legal recourse to deal with some problems. A home that burned down in September still sits scorched on a corner lot. Another resident keeps a pair of rusted old firetrucks parked on his property.

For now, though, the people in Serene Estates are focused on finding ways to fend off the hotel project. They also are anxious about Henderson’s plans to expand Serene Avenue, the road cutting through the neighborhood, between St. Rose and Eastern. That road sometimes serves as a drag strip for those escaping heavy traffic on the major thoroughfares.

Expansion of the road might bring more traffic. But it also will make it easier when residents want to leave the enclave.

In the past few years, several seven-figure homes have been built in the neighborhood and work is ongoing on a park that will serve as a buffer between the houses and the water treatment plant.

“There’s definitely people looking for a larger lot and that lifestyle where the houses are not 5 feet apart,” said Eddie Dichter, a principal planner in Henderson.

The small area has the same problems as the rest of the valley, though.

The valley’s economic problems are reflected in at least a half-dozen “bank owned” signs on front lawns. And there are occasional acts of vandalism.

But all in all things are good in Serene Country Estates. Residents like that it isn’t like much else in the suburbs. It’s quaint. It’s quiet. And those who call it home will take the bad with the good.

The good includes a true neighborhood feeling, one where residents look out for one another and everybody pitches in to ensure the enclave’s future.

Hodge is just hoping a lawyer moves into the neighborhood. A little free legal help would be appreciated.

Staying small and tucked away would be even more appreciated.

“Amongst ourselves we are much more sociable than with outsiders,” he said. “It’s like a little town in Kansas.”

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