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What’s the Matter With Red Rock?

Red Rock Canyon may not yet be as world-famous as the Las Vegas Strip casinos that keep Nevada’s economy humming, but Red Rock and other nearby natural treasures are increasingly part of the strategy to keep Nevada’s economy solid in the future. This may be why so many Nevadans are scratching their heads over the Clark County Commission’s vote that may open the door to 5,000 new homes nearby.

What was that vote about? What’s the matter with Red Rock?

Red Rock Canyon has gradually evolved from being that strange rockpile somewhere out there to an increasingly popular recreational destination in its own right.

Tourism officials now see the value in marketing public lands like Red Rock to ecotourists who want to explore far beyond the confines of smoky casino floors. And Southern Nevada locals seem to like the idea of living near protected public lands.

But how near? That’s the big question. Gypsum Resources, a Jim Rhodes company, lobbied Clark County to approve a master plan from 2011 that calls for 5,025 new homes at Blue Diamond Hill, a location that’s served as an active gypsum mine. Rhodes’ spokespeople claim this plan is actually an environmentally friendly solution for the former mine, as it’s a reduction from an earlier proposal for 7,269 homes and additional developments. Rhodes’ spokespeople also claim the current plan takes into account concerns about traffic and light pollution spilling into Red Rock Canyon.

Are these honest, realistic projections? Can a development roughly the size of Boulder City peacefully coexist with protected park land?

“This motion allowed the project to continue moving forward at a density of 5,000, rather than what they were entitled to under rural zoning. Red Rock and the NCA are impacted by this higher density project.” – Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D)

Commissioner Giunchigliani was one of the two votes against reviving the 2011 Blue Diamond Hill plan. “I’m still shocked that after a 6 and 1/2 hour hearing, a request by Commissioner Brager was made asking the developer to withdraw his 2016 concept plan application (which he did). The motion was then made to return to the 2011 concept plan.”

Last month, District Court Judge Jerry Wiese denied summary judgment to Clark County in its suit against Save Red Rock. Before he issued his ruling, Judge Wiese acknowledged the evidence presented by Save Red Rock’s legal counsel that showed Clark County noting the 2011 plan expired.

Wiese did not make a judgment on whether the 2011 plan is still legally viable. Therefore, Clark County officials believe the 2011 proposal for 5,025 homes on Blue Diamond Hill can and should still be on the table. Indeed, five of the seven Clark County Commissioners essentially voted to revive that 2011 plan at last week’s meeting… Or did they?

“We did not vote to put one house, one street light, one road, or one store on Blue Diamond Hill. We did not allow [Jim Rhodes], by our vote, to put anything up there.” – Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak (D)

According to county officials, last week’s vote was merely to allow Rhodes’ company to withdraw its 2016 application. Because Clark County’s legal counsel believe the 2011 concept plan is still legally viable, the county is moving ahead with the 2011 concept plan. According to our sources in the county, last week’s vote was not to approve any specific amount of homes at Blue Diamond Hill. Or even to approve a specific new zoning for the property.

As Clark County officials explain, last week’s vote simply moves the process along. Rhodes still needs approval from the federal Bureau of Land Management for the right-of-way access road off SR-160/Blue Diamond Road. Under the conditions negotiated for the 2011 concept plan, Rhodes is not allowed to build an access road connecting to SR-159/Red Rock Canyon Road. As the process moves along, Clark County may ultimately approve fewer homes to be built. If Rhodes doesn’t deliver on the conditions stipulated in the concept plan, no homes will be built.

So what’s actually in the cards for Red Rock Canyon? Both sides agree that Red Rock’s in no immediate danger of suburbanization.

What’s less clear is what last week’s vote means for the future of Red Rock.

Clark County officials insist the Commission’s vote was simply to ensure due process for Gypsum Resources. Save Red Rock activists sense the Clark County Commission majority wanted to give Jim Rhodes what he wants without actually having to cast an up-or-down vote on the proposal his company submitted last year. Clark County’s lawsuit against Save Red Rock remains active. Save Red Rock may amend its counterclaim to halt further action on the 2011 plan.

Whatever happens in the coming days, expect more battles in the courtroom and in the Clark County Commission chambers before we come anywhere close to a final resolution for Red Rock Canyon.

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