Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Proposed redevelopment rules merit a fair hearing at City Council


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.

A proposed set of new rules for redeveloping golf courses in master-planned communities and similar areas in Las Vegas offers something for everyone involved.

For homeowners, the goal is to ensure their input is heard and that new development won’t overload the infrastructure in their neighborhoods. For developers, the rules are designed to provide a well-defined regulatory framework, which would aid them in their planning. For taxpayers, the purpose is to prevent more fiascos like the legal dispute over the Badlands golf course, which has cost the city dearly in time and money.

But unfortunately, the proposal has picked up a lot of baggage on its way to a vote in the Las Vegas City Council, which is scheduled to consider it today.

In the weeks since Councilman Steve Seroka brought the rules to the table, lies and misconceptions have sprung up over his intent and the ramifications of the measure. That’s terrible, as it threatens to send the discussion of the proposal down an unproductive path.

Council members must not let that happen. Seroka’s proposal is a constructive and progressive piece of policy on a matter of increasing importance in Las Vegas, and it deserves to move forward.

Going into today’s meeting, it’s important to set the record straight. Here’s a look at the truth of the proposal versus the fiction that’s been spun about it, taken from quotes in open meetings.

ν It’s not a job-killer. The city of Henderson adopted similar rules after seeing Seroka’s version, and construction is certainly still happening in that community. That’s because the rules don’t prohibit development, they simply up the responsibilities of developers. The new requirements for developers include holding at least one neighborhood meeting and providing the city with a detailed account of it, complete with notes on comments made by property owners and the developer’s responses. Developers also would be required to provide a statement on mitigation plans for a project’s impact on schools, traffic, parks, emergency services and utility infrastructure. Other requirements include submitting detailed plans for land use and maintenance.

ν It’s not the “Yohan Lowie bill,” as Councilwoman Michele Fiore derisively named it. Lowie is the developer of the controversial redevelopment plan for the Badlands course, but the proposal doesn’t apply solely to him or to Badlands. Developers of any similar plans would have to comply with the rules. Considering that a downturn in the number of people playing golf is leading to closures of golf courses across the nation and in Las Vegas, Seroka is showing excellent leadership in trying to establish rules over how to redevelop them.

ν The purpose isn’t to throw developers in jail. This was another doozy from Fiore, who suggested that “Councilman Seroka is literally wanting to arrest developers in this bill.” The regulations are unusual for their type in that they do include jail time for noncompliance. But Seroka included the penalties to put teeth in the rules, not as way to trap developers. Also, the jail sentences would apply only to the worst violations.

ν It wouldn’t reduce development in Las Vegas to recession-era levels. Again, the plan doesn’t prohibit development. And even if it did, it’s well worth remembering that most of the valley’s current development isn’t happening on closed golf courses.

Throw out the baggage, and what’s left is smart policy that promises to benefit a growing number of people as golf courses continue to close.

Seroka’s proposal, which is based on best practices of several other cities, offers a clearly defined rulebook for these unique situations.

It sets a high bar for developers, but that’s no sin. In fact, it would help attract responsible developers, the type who would appreciate having a comprehensive and well-defined rulebook, and would appreciate the value of working collaboratively with property owners.

As they know, any kind of redevelopment — shopping centers, downtowns, office parks, office buildings, etc. — requires a thorough involvement with neighbors and the community, because the planning for the initial use of the property gets thrown out the window when the use massively changes.

What Seroka is doing might be specific to golf courses, but it could help establish a framework to be used in all manner of redevelopment efforts. In general, redevelopment can be wonderful if neighbors are brought in early and developers show respect for the communities they are entering.

More than anything, Seroka’s bill helps both neighbors and developers by removing uncertainty. Developers, like any good business operators, do best when the markings on the playing field are clearly laid out before them, as it allows them to make more precise forecasts on the risks and rewards of a project.

The proposal also recognizes that property owners in golf course communities, who paid a premium for their properties, should have a strong say in how the open spaces in their neighborhoods are repurposed and deserve protection from development that would reduce their property values and quality of life. To his credit, Seroka included standards for development adjacent to existing properties, including minimum setbacks, screening, landscaping and a one-story height limit.

As the Badlands dispute has shown, things can get highly emotional when open spaces are redeveloped.

That’s understandable, but council members owe it to city residents to tune out the untruths and hyperbole surrounding Seroka’s proposal.

Are the rules perfect as written? Maybe not, and if council members are uncomfortable with some elements of it — the criminal penalties, for instance — that’s understandable. But this is an idea whose time has come. The council should hold a constructive discussion on it, work out any kinks and push it forward.