Published Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 | 6:13 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 | 8:18 p.m.
After hearing hours of passionate public comment, Clark County commissioners voted 5-2 today to let a Las Vegas developer move forward with plans for a community of more than 5,000 homes near the scenic Red Rock National Conservation Area.
Gypsum Resources will now conduct studies into specifics regarding infrastructure, design and development of the project on the site of a former gypsum mine.
The decision angered opponents, many of whom are associated with the group Save Red Rock. Hundreds of people filled the commission chambers and an overflow area in the government center cafeteria.
“They (the commissioners) took the easy way out,” said Sheila Billingsley, treasurer of Save Red Rock. “This is not respecting people.”
Billingsley was among about 130 people who spoke during a public comment period. Most speakers opposed the project.
Others who spoke against the development included U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, The Killers band manager Robert Reynolds, professional rock climber Alex Honnold and several professors from UNLV.
Opponents raised questions about increased traffic, safety for bicyclists, taxpayer costs associated with expanding infrastructure like water and sewer to the area, and whether the development would be seen from trails within the conservation area. They stressed the uniqueness of Red Rock and a desire to preserve it for future generations.
Heather Fisher, president of Save Red Rock, presented commissioners with petition signed by 45,000 people to keep Red Rock rural. She said the public show of support was encouraging.
Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly voted against the project.
Giunchigliani said she was not convinced the plan, previously approved by the county in 2011, had not expired. Attorneys for developer Jim Rhodes withdrew a proposal submitted last year, leaving only the years-old proposal standing.
“All of a sudden we’re back to the 2011 plan? I can’t support this,” Giunchigliani said.
Save Red Rock attorney Justin Jones says the group would fight in court the validity of the 2011 plan, which he believes expired in 2012.
“We are optimistic that this is just a setback,” he said. “We think we have a case.”
A judge earlier this month decided against making a summary judgment regarding whether the 2011 plan had expired, saying more information was needed.
Project spokesperson Ron Krater said he was confident the courts would ultimately rule with the majority of commissioners, saying, “They have the ultimate say on matters.”
In a presentation to the commission, Krater said the land in question was a “complex, complicated piece of ground” that has been extensively mined and offers no “resource value” in the view of the Bureau of Land Management. That is why earlier efforts for a land swap with the BLM fell flat.
“Our team continues to believe it will be a great benefit to Southern Nevada,” Krater said of the development. “It balances nature and culture. It will also serve to reclaim the open pit and subterranean mining and provide public access to currently private land.”
Krater said he hoped the developer would still be able to ease some of the worries of opponents. “We won’t be able to solve all of the concerns, but we look forward to engaging with the community during this process,” he said.
Rhodes, the builder of thousands of homes in developments including Rhodes Ranch, Tuscany Village and Spanish Hills, bought the Blue Diamond mine property in 2003. He also owns ranch property in northwest Arizona.
State and county lawmakers passed land-use restrictions that effectively killed his first proposal for a master-planned community.
Lawsuits followed, plans stalled further during the Great Recession, and the process stopped when Rhodes' development company filed bankruptcy in 2009.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.