The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of Jim Rhodes in his fight with state lawmakers over developing Blue Diamond Hill.
The court unanimously ruled unconstitutional a state law passed in 2003 to thwart Rhodes' attempts to build thousands of homes overlooking the scenic Red Rock National Conservation Area.
The ruling helps Rhodes to rezone the 2,600 acres to allow him to build many more homes and retail centers. But it doesn't change his desire to convert the land to conservation area and get a less controversial property in Southern Nevada, Rhodes said Thursday.
"The first thing we'll try to do is the land swap," he said. "I'm going to try to be a good corporate citizen and good neighbor and try to do that."
The ruling ends a decade of litigation over the property, the development of which has been protested by environmentalists and residents of nearby Blue Diamond.
When Rhodes bought the land and a gypsum mine on the site in 2003, state lawmakers, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Dina Titus, moved quickly to prevent him from seeking a zoning change. It was, and still is, zoned for rural use, which restricts development to up to 1,500 homes. Rhodes wanted a zoning change that would allow him to build up to 4,700 homes.
Lawmakers passed a bill that prohibited the county from changing zoning laws to allow for more development on property adjacent to conservation areas. But the bill specifically targeted Clark County, and the Red Rock area in particular.
Rhodes sued, and the court ruled that the law violated a provision of the Nevada Constitution that prohibits the Legislature from passing local laws that regulate county business.
Ron Krater, a Rhodes planner, said the court's decision won't do much. The developer has been going through the process to rezone the property, but those plans have been on hold since County Commissioner Susan Brager introduced the idea of a swap weeks ago, Krater said.
"We were committed to (the exchange) regardless of the outcome of the court decision," Krater said.
Rhodes said he hasn't picked out a piece of land for the swap, which would have to be equal in value to his gypsum mine and land on Blue Diamond Hill, near the town of Blue Diamond. Talks with the Bureau of Land Management won't happen for a few weeks, Rhodes said.
Commissioners in January gave strong support for the land swap idea, and it has been hailed by environmentalists and others who want to preserve the area.
Beyond its scenic value, the hill is home to the Blue Diamond cholla, a stubby, big-needled cactus that is one of 24 plants that Nevada deems "critically endangered."
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781.