Las Vegas Sun

June 23, 2017

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Development:

Save Red Rock group alleges county sidestepped open-meeting law

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Steve Marcus

Since 2002, developers have tried to persuade Clark County to change the zoning on an old gypsum mine site about 5 miles from the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, in the interest of building a higher-density residential project there.

In its latest move to block a master-planned community near Red Rock Canyon, a nonprofit group is asking a district court to consider allegations that Clark County officials violated open-meeting law. The move comes two weeks after the county requested that the lawsuit be dropped at a hearing later this month.

On Feb. 22, the county decided to proceed with an initial development plan for up to 5,025 homes near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, despite hours of testimony from members of Save Red Rock, the nonprofit group. Save Red Rock argues that the county violated Nevada’s open-meeting law by considering matters beyond the scope of the agenda. The group is also asking the court to consider an injunction that would block the county from moving the development through the planning process.

The court is expected to hear the motion and decide whether to include the claims in April.

Save Red Rock’s claims are part of ongoing litigation that began in December, months before county commissioners weighed in on the initial plan. The original complaint was filed by the county against Save Red Rock. The county, to avoid future litigation, had wanted a court opinion on several disagreements with Save Red Rock. The developer, Gypsum Resources, supported the county’s move.

One disagreement centered on whether a prior concept plan, approved by commissioners in 2011, had expired. Save Red Rock argued that it had, noting that the county’s own agenda notices, said it had expired and that county staff had required Gypsum to submit a new concept plan in 2016. But an attorney for the county argued that the 2011 concept plan had never expired and remained effective.

When asked for its opinion, the court demurred, saying the commissioners should decide the issue.

Commissioners took up the issue on Feb. 22 at a packed meeting that drew more than 100 speakers. The majority of those who spoke — a medley that included Save Red Rock activists, UNLV professors, a congresswoman, the Killers band manager and a professional rock climber — testified against the master-planned community. They were concerned that the developer’s project, a subject of intense controversy and litigation since 2002, would increase traffic and damage the environmental integrity of the canyon.

Commissioners did not vote on the plan. Instead, Gypsum Resources withdrew its 2016 concept plan, with the county arguing that Gypsum could proceed with the project under the 2011 concept plan.

This is where Save Red Rock claims that the county erred. The nonprofit group believes that the county commission violated open-meeting law by raising topics, including the 2011 concept plan, that had not been posted on the public agenda for the meeting. Save Red Rock also argues that security guards denied admission to several members and that it was misled about when commissioners would discuss the topic.

Dan Kulin, a county spokesman, said commission chambers were packed that day. He noted that the county provided overflow space with the meeting on TV. “There were TV monitors in the hallway and the cafeteria,” he said. “Also, we were making sure to let additional people in as other people came out.”

In late February, the county asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. Following the outcome at the commission meeting, the county argued, the points brought forth in the lawsuit were now moot.

A hearing on that motion is scheduled for March 30.

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