EDITORIAL: Taking urban out of suburban

Downtown Las Vegas has been revitalized by urbanism. But in a case of “What happens in downtown Las Vegas stays in downtown Las Vegas,” the City Council last month effectively scrapped an urban vision for a part of the northwest valley.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Benjamin Spillman, the council allowed the construction of a gas station, convenience store and car wash on land in the master-planned Town Center area, which is bordered by U.S. Highway 95, the Las Vegas Beltway and Durango Drive. The vote was 4-3 over the objections of Councilman Steve Ross, who represents the area. The plan called for a building up to 12 stories tall as part of a high-density concept, but common sense won out.

In matters specific to one ward, council members rightly tend to give deference to the representative of that ward. But in this case, Mr. Ross was clinging to an overly ambitious exercise in central planning that was adopted in 2001, when Las Vegas was booming. Economic circumstances have changed dramatically since then, and the Town Center area reflects as much. Mr. Spillman noted that in the decade since the master plan was adopted, builders have shown little interest in urban-style construction there, with one midrise building remaining vacant and 600 acres in the area still undeveloped.

The Review-Journal’s Jennifer Robison reported in September that a whopping 26 percent of office suites across the valley sit vacant. A 12-story building at Town Center assuredly would have added to that dismal vacancy rate. Yet Mr. Ross wanted to maintain the land’s status as Urban Center Mixed Use, saying, “My vision and the city’s vision and the city planners’ vision for that area on Durango was something bigger and better.”

Bigger? Yes. But better? Not in this economy. There are no prospects for a new urban village in the northwest, and even if it were built, there are no prospects for filling the space. “This plan stinks. That is the problem,” Councilman Bob Beers said.

The City Council rightly approved the change in use, which might lead to more sensible development in the area. A taxpaying business that will create jobs is better for the city than a vacant lot.