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Badlands golf course development in Las Vegas leads to bad blood

The bad blood has reached a boiling point in the battle over the future of the Badlands golf course in west Las Vegas.

The clash pits some notable Las Vegas names who live in the upscale Queens-ridge development against high-profile Las Vegas developer Yohan Lowie, chief executive officer of EHB Companies, which is proposing the large residential development for the golf course property.

Opponents contend city officials have colluded with Lowie, resulting in special treatment for the project; Lowie asserts he wanted to work with the neighbors but continually met with resistance to any development on the golf course.

In the past year, two lawsuits have been filed over the plans and the applications have been delayed multiple times at Las Vegas City Hall.

The future of the property may become a bit clearer this week, with the proposal to build 720 units concentrated at the corner of Rampart Boulevard and Alta Drive on Wednesday’s City Council agenda.

Since it was initially proposed, the number of units planned as part of the development has changed, but the ire and animosity from opponents, including residents in the neighboring Queensridge development, has remained.

In 2015, EHB Companies purchased the companies that owned the golf course land and related assets. Fairways wind through the residential areas, where the housing variety spans the spectrum from townhouses to multimillion-dollar mega-mansions.

“We knew the golf course was in trouble, losing money,” said Lowie, who also lives in Queensridge. “We wanted to do something very special for the community.”

DISCORD INTENSIFIES

Opponents clearly don’t share his vision for the development, and tick off concerns such as drainage and the increased residential density’s effect on traffic, schools and other services.

Both sides recall events at past meetings differently and accuse each other of twisting words. Attorneys on each side trade barbs in email exchanges. The sides disagree on whether the density proposed in the development is congruous with the surrounding area. Some homeowners insist that their property values have plummeted since the announcement that the the golf course is going away, while Lowie contends values have notched upward. Neighbors insist Lowie has called the proposal a “done deal,” something he vehemently denies.

“I think the opposition had to come up with a phrase to enrage everybody: ‘it’s a done deal,’” Lowie said in an interview last month. “… I would never say it to anybody because simply, there’s no such thing as a done deal. Everybody knows it’s a political issue, it’s a land-use issue, and there are surprises all the time.”

The only “done deal” in this situation is that the golf course will cease to exist — upkeep costs are too high for operators to make a profit, Lowie said.

Unless there’s an extension or a new operator is found, the Badlands course will be shuttered, as early as Dec. 1. Opponents challenge whether the company can build on the golf course, charging that the master plan never allowed for residential units there. That, of course, is something Lowie vehemently counters.

Queensridge homeowners’ association board member Elaine Wenger-Roesener contends the dispute isn’t about “a golf course view,” but rather the community’s “quiet enjoyment of open space.”

“We buy into HOAs for some degree of protection,” Wenger-Roesener said, “not a bait-and- witch scenario.”

Earlier this month, on the heels of the Planning Commission meeting where a significant portion of the proposal failed to gain approval, the developers pulled part of the application. That leaves 720 units concentrated at the corner of Alta and Rampart up for council consideration Wednesday.

When the development went to the Las Vegas Planning Commission last month, it included 2,675 units spread across the property. That proposal included 2,400 multifamily units, the possibility for up to 200 assisted-living units and 75 single-family estate properties on larger lots peppered through the part of the golf course that winds behind existing mansions.

City planning staff had recommended approval of that application.

Gaming lawyer Frank Schreck, whose property overlooks the course, expects that with the withdrawal of a large portion of the proposal, efforts to develop the remainder of the property will be done “piecemeal,” he said.

“We’re going to have to come back over and over again,” Schreck said.

CITY COUNCIL

But how the council vote will go remains to be seen. Councilman Stavros Anthony, for instance, said last week he was meeting with people on both sides and had much to study before deciding how he’ll vote Wednesday.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman declined to comment last week ahead of hearing the discussion at the council meeting.

Robert and Nancy Peccole, whose property abuts the golf course, filed a lawsuit in District Court in July over the plans, alleging a breach of contract and a fraudulent scheme to “deprive the plaintiffs as Queensridge homeowners of their entitled rights to a golf course, open space and flood control …”

Last week, a judge denied an appeal for a preliminary injunction in one lawsuit.

Another lawsuit, which was filed in December and includes among its plaintiffs Schreck and businessman Jack Binion, alleges efforts to openly “circumvent” state law and city code.

“We’ll get our justice in court,” Schreck said.

Lowie points to the contract Queensridge homeowners sign on their homes and a clause disclosing that the golf course won’t necessarily stay indefinitely.

“The homeowners should be expecting development here,” Lowie said. “It’s just when the time came, they’re trying to get something out of it.”

The golf course, situated in the shadow of the prominent Queensridge towers complex, shares the Alta/Rampart intersection with the Suncoast casino and Tivoli Village. EHB developed Tivoli Village and a number of custom homes inside Queensridge. Lowie is also the developer behind the Nevada Supreme Court building under construction in downtown Las Vegas.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic, who didn’t return a call seeking comment last week, weighed in at the Planning Commission meeting last month. The zoning on the property gives a developer the right to propose building something there, he said, but it’s up to the City Council to approve such proposals.

To the opponents’ contention of an inappropriate relationship between the developer and the city, Beers said the situation is “quite the contrary.”

“They’re seeking an arbiter of the application before us or keeping the golf course,” said Beers, who represents the ward that includes Badlands. “That’s not the decision before us.”

CURRENT PROPOSAL

Lowie contends because of the depth of the part of the property where the 720 units are slated to go, the roofline of the new development won’t go any higher than the podium located off the back of the Queensridge towers and that tower residents will maintain their views of the mountains and the Strip.

He paints an elaborate picture of his vision for the site: landscaped hills that lead into lower-graded areas, winding lanes, walking paths, open spaces and minimally impacted views.

“This is the best alternative that we can come up with, and I think the city took the same position,” Lowie said. “This is the best alternative of all the other alternatives, for this golf course. Unless it could stay a golf course.”

Opponents are trying to rally as many people as possible to attend the Wednesday afternoon City Council session. Around 200 people attended the Planning Commission meeting last month.

Opponents have spent more than $1 million fighting Lowie’s plan, Schreck said.

“If we hadn’t, he would have won,” Schreck said.

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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