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$48M Badlands judgment against Las Vegas upheld by top court

Updated April 18, 2024 - 7:30 pm

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a $48 million award to the owner of Las Vegas’ defunct Badlands golf course, as part of a long-running land-use dispute with the city.

The high court’s decision, released Thursday, affirmed a District Court ruling that the city had improperly taken 35 acres of land from Yohan Lowie of EHB Cos., which set out years ago to turn the long-shuttered golf course off Alta Drive at Rampart Boulevard into a sprawling housing development.

That $48 million award is but a fraction of the city’s potential liability. It already faces awards in two other lawsuits totaling $189 million in connection with the Badlands, both under appeal, and a fourth lawsuit that is still pending.

When the city rejected applications to redevelop parts of the course, it cited reasons including strong public opposition and concerns over the project’s impact on surrounding residents, according to the Supreme Court.

“When a governmental agency acts in a manner that removes all the economic value from privately owned land, just compensation must be paid,” Supreme Court Justice Douglas Herndon wrote in Thursday’s unanimous ruling.

EHB partner Vickie DeHart hailed the decision as a victory for all property owners.

She also said that if her group had lost the case, it would have “granted the government the authority to take land from owners at any time.”

“The ruling by the court was a validation of the fundamental principles that protect property owners’ rights and ensure stability and security in our legal system,” she said in a statement.

‘We should have never been in this situation’

City spokesman Jace Radke said in a statement that city officials are aware of the ruling, that the city attorney and city manager will brief council members on the decision, and that “no additional comment will be made as there are additional cases pending involving the Badlands golf course.”

Las Vegas Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, whose ward includes the Badlands site and who is running for mayor, told the Review-Journal on Thursday that when she ran for the council five years ago, she made settling the Badlands litigation “a centerpiece of my campaign.”

She also said that while she “advocated and worked tirelessly toward a settlement” during her time on the council, other councilmembers “continually resisted, and many of them voted against the developer, which led to the lawsuits.”

“We should have never been in this situation,” Seaman said, adding that she “stopped voting to fund outside attorneys who had nothing to lose to continue this fight.”

Mounting cases

Lowie’s plans to develop the 250-acre plot of land began to dwindle shortly after EHB purchased the golf course in 2015.

Residents of the upscale Queensridge neighborhood, which surrounds the land, objected to the project, and multiple lawsuits were eventually filed over the development.

In 2022, a proposed legal settlement would have cost the city $64 million, but negotiations broke down hours before the matter was to be discussed publicly at City Hall.

At the time, Lowie said that the city had tried to implement last-minute changes to the agreement.

Lowie has maintained that he’s willing to try to reach a resolution, and his attorney Jim Leavitt reiterated that Thursday.

“Mr. Lowie has from day one, been willing to sit down and work this out with the city,” said Leavitt, “and he still is, even though he just got a substantial and far-reaching decision in his favor.”

Judges in three cases, involving different sections of the golf course, have ruled that the city illegally took property by not allowing land-use entitlements.

A judgment for a 17-acre section was also set at $48 million, and EHB was awarded about $141 million for a 65-acre portion. Appeals are ongoing.

The fourth case, involving 133 acres, is stayed in court. Leavitt said the judge in that case was awaiting Thursday’s decision.

He also said it was difficult to determine how much EHB could ultimately be owed, due to decisions on attorneys’ fees, taxes and interest.

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the judge in the District Court case under appeal.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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