Zones changed to restore golf courses

The grass is about to get greener at Lake Las Vegas, and supporters of a related plan hope the change will help return the Henderson resort community to its original glory.

“It is something that literally can revitalize Lake Las Vegas,” Henderson City Councilman John Marz said.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved zone changes as part of a proposal called the Green Grass Project. The goal of the project, according to a staff report from the city’s Community Development Department, “is to restore the Reflection Bay and The Falls golf courses to their original, lush appearance.”

Both golf courses were abandoned in 2009, leaving behind 375 acres of neglected land. Visitors to Lake Las Vegas, which was forced into bank­ruptcy in 2008, now see mostly dead grass when they enter the community.

The Green Grass Project involves converting some of the abandoned golf course land to residential uses to fund the restoration; but, according to the staff report, “dozens, if not hundreds, of acres within Lake Las Vegas will remain undisturbed, natural desert open space.”

Vicki Hafen Scott has lived in the private, gated community on the lake’s south shore since 1998. She spoke at the council’s Sept. 3 meeting and said she was disappointed that a vote on the matter was being delayed that night.

“We’ve had a problem out there for many years,” she told the council.

Scott’s neighborhood has its own private golf course at SouthShore Golf Club that continues to function, but she thinks the Green Grass Project will have an economic benefit for everyone who lives or does business at Lake Las Vegas.

“I think that’s very important to the look of our community,” Scott said. “I mean, that’s what our community was built around, the green grass of those golf courses.”

The Planning Commission un­animously approved the zone changes at its Aug. 15 meeting.

Commissioner Jerry Mansfield, who has lived in the south shore community since 2002, said the city does not give up open space easily.

“For what we did give up in open land, we feel that this is more than compensated for in the benefits the community has received in return,” Mansfield said.

Last year, New York hedge fund manager John Paulson purchased about 875 acres on the north shore of Lake Las Vegas through his firm, Paulson &Co.

His company, Lake Las Vegas Recovery Acquisition LLC, filed the applications for the zone changes approved Tuesday and is in contract with Texas-based Carmel Land &Cattle Co. to purchase the abandoned golf courses.

Cody Winterton, executive vice president of Raintree Investment Corp., explained the details of the Green Grass Project at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Raintree is an exclusive agent for Paulson &Co.

Winterton said Paulson and Raintree began working with the Lake Las Vegas community about a year ago to come up with solutions for the deserted golf courses.

The result was the Green Grass Project. As part of the project, Winterton told the council, 150 acres of grass will be replaced or nursed back to health, and 100 acres of neglected trees and bushes will be cleaned up and cared for.

In addition, more than 50 acres at The Falls will be conveyed to the Lake Las Vegas Master Association, at no cost, for the permanent use of homeowners.

The Reflection Bay golf course will re-open to the public as a championship level course, but Raintree representatives have said the community cannot support a third golf course. The Falls lost money even during its best year, they said.

Water from the 320-acre lake will be used for irrigation. Winterton said the turnover of water within the lake is needed for its overall health, which has suffered since the golf courses closed.

The plan calls for the construction of 275 homes on The Falls golf course and 80 homes on the Reflection Bay driving range, which will be reduced from 15 acres to 6 acres.

Winterton said the Green Grass Project will restore the “visual impact” of the Lake Las Vegas entryway off of Lake Mead Parkway. He said the improvement is critical for the homeowners and hotels in the resort community.

“It’s literally an oasis in the desert,” Winterton said.

Greg Gooding, general manager of The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort &Spa, was among those who spoke in favor of the project at Tuesday’s council meeting. He acknowledged that the resort community has gone through a “devastating time.”

“We can’t succeed without Reflection Bay, a healthy lake and a green entrance,” he told the council.

The council voted 4-0 in favor of the zone changes needed for the Green Grass Project, prompting applause from Lake Las Vegas homeowners who attended the meeting. Mayor Andy Hafen was absent.

Greg Toth, a senior planner with the city of Henderson, said he heard little opposition to the proposal at neighborhood meetings he attended. City staff recommended approval of the project.

“This is the first time since the golf courses shut down that we’ve seen any plan to address the fact that it’s all dying,” Toth said.

Mansfield called the project a “huge win for Lake Las Vegas.”

“This is the rocket fuel to take this community forward, and I don’t know that everyone’s realized it yet,” the planning commissioner said.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710