Clark County commissioners will review a proposed pact Wednesday that would enable developer Jim Rhodes to apply for more than the one home per two acres allowed on land just east of Red Rock Canyon.
Opponents, who say the deal would give him too much leeway in where he could build roads, are expected to protest.
Rhodes' representatives say it would be a fair compromise with no hidden traps.
"Both sides have to get something out of the settlement," said Terry Murphy, Rhodes' spokeswoman. "The county is getting a lot. It adds 500 acres to the Red Rock (National) Conservation Area."
But in an e-mail, Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, a Scenic Nevada representative, said county officials are being pressured into cutting a deal with Rhodes because they're afraid of losing a lawsuit that will be heard in federal court in May.
"I'm not in favor of negotiating with him," said Mayo-DeRiso, whose group seeks to protect pristine areas. "It's like negotiating with a ghost. Jim Rhodes hasn't spent a single dime on this property other than to sue the county."
Mayo-DeRiso said the county's proposed truce with Rhodes has "slippery" wording.
For instance, under the deal, Rhodes would build an access road from the east rather than from state Route 159, the scenic highway that runs though the canyon. But the county must allow "adjustments" and "deviations" to accommodate challenging terrain, she said, arguing that he could wind up building a road alongside Route 159 if he runs into tough topography.
Deputy District Attorney Rob Warhola, however, said the agreement states that an access road can't go near Route 159. Anything Rhodes submitted would undergo intense review and the county would decide what to grant him, Warhola said.
"The development agreement is designed to protect Red Rock," Warhola said.
If the deal is approved, Rhodes would be limited to developing 1,700 of the 2,400 acres he owns atop Blue Diamond Hill, a former gypsum mining site. He would swap 500 acres for land of equal value, Murphy said, adding that prospective land he would receive hasn't been identified.
As part of the deal, Rhodes would drop a lawsuit challenging a county code that bars him from pursuing more than one house per two acres on his land.
If he wins in court, the county could be out $1 million in legal fees and might be compelled to erase the current zoning restrictions, Warhola said.
Rhodes gained leverage after the Nevada Supreme Court last year struck down a state law that mirrored the county's code, county officials say. The court ruled that the state's intention was not just to protect Red Rock but to devalue Rhodes' land.
In its opinion, the court refers to a letter, dated May 2003, that Dina Titus wrote as a state senator to county commissioners. She is now in Congress. At the time, commissioners were trying to buy Rhodes' land with federal funds to make it part of Red Rock.
Titus stated that the owner would be more willing to sell if he is denied the ability to more densely develop his land. Also, it would suppress the value and save taxpayers' money in the purchase, she said.
Titus was involved in the legislation that limited Rhodes' development.
Contact reporter Scott Wyland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-455-4519.