Spanish Trail, one of Las Vegas' most affluent gated communities, is starting to feel the pinch of the recession.
Some residents are outraged that Spanish Trail association directors have started a $4.1 million remake of the landscaping and plan to collect a $3,350 special assessment from each homeowner over the next two years to pay for it.
Some homeowners say the board should have waited until the economy was stronger and residents are more financially secure before undertaking the project.
Yet, Spanish Trail is no ordinary community. It's residents have included former Major League Baseball pitcher Greg Maddux; former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham; Prince Jefri Bolkiah, brother of the Sultan of Brunei; and television celebrity Robin Leach. Even movie director Martin Scorsese rented a home in Spanish Trail for a time.
While some billionaire residents could pay the entire assessment from their wallet, others are retirees living on fixed incomes and some are struggling to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure, said John Gilardi, a retired building contractor.
Alex Forgette, a retired California lawyer, said he would like to buy a new Mercedes but is driving a 4-year-old Lexus because of the hard times.
"The economic downturn has hit Spanish Trail just like it would anybody else," Forgette said.
Mike Brenesell, a marketing consultant, said he doesn't object to needed maintenance work but he said much of the work should be delayed because many residents are dealing with financial hardships that make the assessment onerous.
"Ninety percent of the people were against this assessment at this time," he said.
Even some homeowners who can afford the assessment are upset that the landscaping project involve chopping down mature palm trees, pine trees and cottonwood trees that lined some of the streets.
"I don't mind seeing some trees removed but not those beautiful palms," Brenesell said.
Forgette said: "They have been there for years, and we think they're beautiful and spell Spanish Trail,"
Dr. Lane Smith, a plastic surgeon, also is unhappy with the tree removal.
"They originally told us they would make the place look like Italy. All they have done is make it look like a desert, not even a very nice desert," Smith said. "We feel like it's damaging our property values."
Some residents are threatening lawsuits, said Spanish Trail managing director Asa Ashcraft. Xanadu SJ C Family Trust, which is apparently controlled by time-share operator Stephen Cloobeck, filed two lawsuits earlier this month in Clark County District Court against directors of two homeowners association boards and managing director Ashcraft.
Ashcraft referred a call for comment to attorney Sean Anderson, who said he could not comment until he saw the lawsuits. He didn't respond a request for comment after being sent copies of the lawsuits.
The Spanish Trail newsletter, 89113, last spring reported that the homeowners association received a $262,000 check from the Southern Nevada Water Authority so it could remove turf to reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation.
In a lawsuit against the Spanish Trail Master Association, Xanadu complained that palm trees at the West Gate Entrance to Spanish Trail were cut down and the guard house demolished earlier this month. The palm trees previously screened the plaintiff's house from views and noise on Tropicana.
In a second lawsuit against Estate West at Spanish Trail Associates, Xanadu said the defendants last year directed workers to cut down cottonwood trees and other 25 year-old-trees on Cascade Creek Lane where the plaintiff owns a house.
The lawsuits claim that the homeowners association boards didn't obtain consent from homeowners in Spanish Trail. Plaintiff's attorney Elizabeth Brennan, who also is general counsel and executive vice president of Cloobeck's Diamond Resorts International, said she asked the master association to delay removal of any remaining palm trees so she could seek an injunction in court, but she said the work continued.
The lawsuits accuse the boards of breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, negligence, conversion and wrongful taking of property.
Last February, a group of residents told the board about their opposition to the landscaping program.
"The room was just packed with people," Gilardi said.
Project opponents earlier this month were able to present the Spanish Trail board with a petition signed by 180 of 1,250 homeowners despite the difficulty in obtaining homeowners' names, he said.
Gilardi said the board needs a vote of approval from homeowners before it can start a project that costs more than 5 percent of the homeowners association's budget. However, he said the Spanish Trail board started the $4.1 million project even though it exceeds the association's $3.9 million annual budget and homeowners were not given a chance to vote.
"There was no input from the homeowners," Gilardi said. "This was done behind closed doors."
In a letter earlier this month, however, Ashcraft gave some homeowners within 500 feet of entrances an opportunity to vote for or against proposed new entry gate structures.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at email@example.com or 702-383-0420.