You gotta understand something about the northwest valley. This is horse country.
I've lived in the northwest for almost 20 years, and let me tell you, we're all about horses out here. It's not that we all own a trusty steed. On the contrary, the majority of us live in subdivided crackerboxes just like everybody else in the valley.
Nonetheless, the northwest is rural at heart. I live across the street from a neighborhood where people have horses milling around in corrals. If I take a walk around the block, it's not uncommon to cross paths with somebody astride a saddle, trotting around a vacant lot.
That's the northwest's charm. It's the New Old West. Big skies. Mountain vistas. Pickups with trailer hitches.
It's a state of mind that doesn't jibe with modern developments such as Kyle Canyon Gateway.
The Kyle Canyon Gateway project, spearheaded by Focus Property Group, envisions 16,000 residences on about 1,700 acres. That's a level of density we're not accustomed to out here in cowboy country.
That's more than nine units per acre, y'all! What ever happened to half-acre lots?
Times change, of course. We know that. It's completely unrealistic in today's Las Vegas real estate market to offer the ranch-style living of the not-so-distant past. The land's just too valuable to waste on back yards, let alone corrals or chicken coops.
That said, the Kyle Canyon project is pushing the envelope.
"I moved here for freedom, wide open spaces," said June Fiedler, a northwest resident who attended a neighborhood meeting last week about the project. Fiedler used to live in a suburb of Cleveland "where everybody had at least an acre. I loved that." Her main complaint about Kyle Canyon Gateway: "Why do they have to make such a dense community?"
Eileen McKyton is worried about the additional traffic the project will generate on U.S. Highway 95. "The highway can't handle it," she said. "And the casino is just going to add more traffic."
Ah, the casino. In part because the city has already approved most of the Kyle Canyon Gateway master plan, northwest residents have focused lately on the proposed casino, which hasn't yet received the green light.
Mark Fiorentino, Focus Property's senior vice president for government affairs, said the casino builder/operator hasn't been chosen yet, but he described the planned resort as "bigger than Santa Fe but a little smaller than Red Rock."
Some folks have pointed out that about 10 years ago, the Nevada Legislature passed a law designed to limit the number of casinos built in Las Vegas neighborhoods. Naturally, that law has not worked. Since its passage, we've seen new neighborhood casinos rise up all over the valley.
Focus officials want another one, and they intend for it to include a 160-foot tower. Understand: a 160-foot tower at the turnoff to Mount Charleston.
Fiedler, the transplanted Ohioan, admitted the casinos were a key reason she moved to Las Vegas. "We enjoy gaming," she said. "But not shoved down our throat like this."
"The 160-foot tower is a bit excessive," said McKyton's husband, Alex, with a grin suggesting vast understatement.
Whatever happens with Kyle Canyon Gateway, one thing seems certain: Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross has gained more than a few political enemies in the process. Residents say Ross campaigned on a platform of keeping casinos out of their neighborhoods and protecting people's views. Now in office, he seems to have forgotten all about those promises.
"Ross has sold us down the river," Fiedler said.
Alex McKyton wondered why the approval process is moving so fast, especially in light of the serious real estate slump in Las Vegas, where more than 24,000 houses are for sale right now. "What's the rush?" he asked.
These are the issues I see:
1. The casino is no big deal. I live three-quarters of a mile from Santa Fe Station and it's more positive than negative. But the planned Kyle Canyon tower is too high. Focus officials and city leaders should negotiate a height that won't turn the resort into a permanent blemish in the foothills of the beautiful Spring Mountain Range. A few years ago, the Clark County Commission, under pressure from residents, reduced the height of the Red Rock Resort by 100 feet. The least that Councilman Ross could do is chop a chunk off the top of the Kyle Canyon casino.
2. The residential density might be unavoidable -- and desirable from a certain urban planning perspective -- but there's no question about the severe impact on U.S. 95 congestion. If this community is really interested in "smart growth" and "regional planning," the Gateway project should not proceed until there is a parallel effort to widen the highway and create alternative routes and transit options. We can't have 40,000 new people straddling U.S. 95 without a serious commuter traffic plan.
This always has been the downfall of Las Vegas development. Things happen in a vacuum. Each subdivision, each shopping center, each master-planned community is seen as a stand-alone unit, meaning its impact on other areas of the community is not taken into consideration.
Thus, we get traffic-choked highways, beltways and streets. We get overcrowded schools and jails. We get shortages of police officers, overburdened courts, deficient public services. We're great at throwing up houses but lousy at everything else that goes into building a city.
Focus Property Group has a pretty good reputation in town. It puts together nice communities, and it's a leader in the water conservation effort. Kyle Canyon Gateway promises to be another attractive place to live.
But all that's largely irrelevant. What's important to the people of the northwest is what the project means for their quality of life. And when they do the math, it adds up to a negative for the last bastion of ranch living in Las Vegas.
Ask the horses. I'd bet the trifecta they're against it.
Geoff Schumacher (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Stephens Media's director of community publications. He is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and, coming in February, "Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue." His column appears Sunday.