Originally published by Joe Schoenmann, Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011 | 10:05 a.m., Updated Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011 | 5:42 p.m.
Hundreds of people showed up at the Clark County Government Center on Wednesday to protest a plan by Jim Rhodes to develop some 3,000 acres off Blue Diamond Road, near the Red Rock National Conservation Area.
The Clark County Commission began hearing Rhodes’ representatives and their plan for the development about 10 a.m., calling the project an “intelligent, healthy community.” It wasn’t until late into the afternoon that they voted to allow the project to move forward after spirited debate.
Hundreds were on hand and many of them were seeking the opportunity to speak.
The plan is to build homes on Blue Diamond Hill, off State Route 159, the location of the non-operational Blue Diamond Gypsum Mine, a strip-mining operation for 40 to 50 years.
About 300 people live in the tiny community of Blue Diamond. Also located near the proposed development are the tiny hamlets of Calico Basin and Bonnie Springs.
A Rhodes representative described the development as a kind of Shangri-La, the perfect place to live, work and commune with nature and neighbors. A few in the standing-room audience snickered at some of the descriptions, which include:
• “An opportunity to go back” in time, to create a community like in the olden days, “communities that have stood the test of time.”
• Creating a community so great that it would attract a world-class school; live-work residential housing; “places to meet neighbors.”
• “A model for development and for dealing with future growth.”
• Preservation of “the most sensitive areas for open space” — development would occur largely on areas already decimated by strip mining.
• A business and research park.
Speaking on behalf of the project, Jeremy Aguero, principal with Applied Analysis, discussed the potential economic impact of the project. He said the total cost over 20 years to build-out is about $2.3 billion. And if $1.68 dollars in sales and consumption activity occurs from each dollar of investment — the historical average — the project would create $3.9 billion in sales and consumption.
In addition, he said construction of the project would generate 11,900 person-years (one person employed for a year) of employment. Indirectly, the project would create 9,300 jobs, he said.
After Aguero spoke, activist and consultant Lisa Mayo-Deriso criticized his analysis, saying it lacked a cost-benefit projections, including what kind of impact the project would have “next to a national treasure (Red Rock National Conservation Area).”
Another speaker directed his comments at Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager, who earlier pleaded with the audience not to applaud or boo comments. “We get it,” Brager had told the crowd.
In response, a speaker said, “With all due respect, Mrs. Brager, we don’t think you get it. Nobody in this room thinks you get it.”
Many people laughed and applauded the remark, causing Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, a school teacher, to admonish the crowd to be respectful. “I taught my (school) kids to respect each other,” she said. “Applauding, booing for those kind of comments is not respectful.”
Attorney Chris Kaempfer, representing the development, reminded commissioners that they lost a legal fight over the property last year.
The county tried to expand a Red Rock protected area to include the gypsum mine area, but the courts said they didn’t have that right. In turn, the county signed and agreement with the developer that Kaempfer said means the commissioners “cannot just deny this application. And if you do establish a density, it has to be something that would not be unreasonable.”
The current density that the acreage is zoned for –one home per two acres — isn’t reasonable, Kaempfer said, since other major project in the valley average 5.5 homes per acre.
He urged the commission to approve Rhodes’ plan for 2.9 homes per acre.
The county’s real estate attorney reminded commissioners that what they are dealing with today is only a concept plan. “It’s very vague, very general,” said Deputy District Attorney Rob Warhola.
The next step would be a more specific plan, in which the county would identify issues and problems, then attach conditions to the plan.
The conceptual plan passed 5-2, with Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Chris Giunchigliani voting against it.