Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2019

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Guest column:

Why development at arroyo is a bad idea


Christopher DeVargas

Councilman Steve Seroka overlooks the old Badlands Golf Course, which sits in a natural revine, surrounded by the Queensridge master-planned community, Monday Feb 19, 2018.

For more than two years, residents of the five communities that border the former Badlands Golf Course in western Las Vegas have been squaring off against a developer — along with his army of attorneys — who aspires to build approximately 3,000 units of homes, apartments, high-rise towers and possibly even commercial business properties on open space adjacent to their homes.

Now, residents are finally enjoying a few months of relative calm in the dispute. The break in tensions has come after developer Yohan Lowie and his firm EHB Cos. were prevented by city ordinance from bringing his development proposals before the City Council until late this fall.

However, just beneath the surface, the storm is still brewing — Lowie has chosen a path of litigation. Instead of working with the adjacent homeowners and his city council representative to find a solution, Lowie has chosen to file lawsuits against a variety of parties including the city, his city councilman, his neighbors and one of the most respected judges in the state. The matter is far from settled.

The storm began when Lowie bought the now-defunct Badlands Golf Course in November 2015 and brought his first development proposals to City Hall a few months later. The golf course — fully functioning and profitable at the time — was built in a natural arroyo that provides flood protection for the community, serving as a natural relief valve for drainage. Furthermore, the golf course is in a designated 100-year flood zone.

Authorities say that during times of flooding, water rushes through this area at 4,600 cubic feet per second. As one expert put it, imagine 4,600 basketballs hurtling past your nose every second, and you’ll have an idea of the massive water flow. This natural arroyo provides a critical buffer against flooding, and on occasion it accumulates water up to 30 feet deep.

To further complicate matters, the land is designated as open space in the city’s master plan. That means you’re not allowed to build on it. At least part of the reason is that the arroyo helps protect the community.

In essence, Lowie purchased a 250-acre drainage area for about $7.5 million, and now he is seeking a way to flip it for hundreds of millions.

At a hearing in January, District Judge Jim Crockett compared Lowie’s purchase to “buying a pig in a poke, which means you’re buying something in a burlap sack, you don’t know what it is, and you are paying a price for it based upon what you think you are buying.”

By all accounts, it appears that Lowie’s land has less value today than at the time of purchase.

If you haven’t been following the controversy closely, you might find it hard to believe how deep the dispute goes. As an example, before the developer’s most recent attempt to push city officials to allow development in the arroyo, I dove into the books. I found that his requests appeared to be inconsistent with state law, city ordinances and in contempt of Judge Crockett’s recent ruling.

Further, I discovered that while Lowie has the right to ask for a change to land-use designations, the city council has no obligation to accommodate him. In fact, allowing his requests could sound the alarm to all taxpayers and citizens that your city government has no regard for its own ordinances nor allegiance to previous decisions on planning and land use — and your open space, park or golf course could be the next to be developed.

Of note, one of the many lawsuits by Lowie was filed against a retired U.S. Marine who was exercising the First Amendment rights he proudly defended. Daniel Ozerma was going door to door and speaking to his neighbors about the development issue. Lowie drove by, stopped, asked Ozerma what he was doing — and then proceeded to declare he would file a lawsuit against Ozerma to prevent him from speaking with his neighbors. Lowie ultimately did just that.

There has to be a better way, a smarter way to do business. The path taken so far hasn’t accomplished much for either side. It is my hope that Lowie, his attorneys and business advisers will use this time to determine whether they can find a way, in goodwill, to approach their neighbors and find a plan acceptable to everyone.

I don’t want people looking back 10 or 15 years from now and asking, “Who allowed development on this open space, this flood-protection area? Who allowed this disastrous decision?” Rather than allow a solution to be imposed on the community via legal action, let’s negotiate one. My door is open to Lowie. I come to this situation with an open mind. I know we can find a solution. I also know, and there is no getting around it, that you cannot build upon a natural arroyo that protects against flooding.

Las Vegas City Councilman Steven G. Seroka represents Ward 2, where the Badlands Golf Course is located.