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Route 159 access vote postponed

The County Commission wants more time to look at developer Jim Rhodes’ request to use state Route 159 during construction of his 4,700-home hilltop development between Blue Diamond and Red Rock.

Rhodes, who bought the land with his brother for $54 million in 2002, wants to use the scenic route during the initial phase of construction to build the project’s access road and for safety and emergency purposes. The project includes developing homes, a business park and retail areas, among other amenities, on the former gypsum mining site.

Commissioner Susan Brager, who represents the area, said she felt she was clear about not using Route 159, which is heavily traveled by bicyclists, motorcyclists and joggers for recreation.

The commission, sitting as the zoning board, was scheduled to discuss on Nov. 16 a waiver to allow Rhodes access off the scenic road adjacent to Red Rock National Conservation Area. The discussion was pushed back so Brager could hold a community meeting in Blue Diamond. That meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14 at the town’s community center.

The County Commission is expected to revisit the matter in January.

“To have some huge construction traffic going by the Blue Diamond community, there’s lots of activity there, and it’s not in the best interest of the population,” Brager said. “He bought the land. He had a due diligence period. He still needs access from BLM, which he does not have at this time. It’s putting the cart before the horse.”

Chris Kaempfer, Rhodes’ attorney, said the developer needs the access off state Route 159 to build the road from the hilltop down to Route 160. That would use the material graded from lots at the top of the hill to build the access road.

It would be more expensive to build the road up the hill from Route 160, Kaempfer said. The developer would have to haul in material for the road and then get rid of the excess material from the top of the hill, causing more construction traffic, he said.

“No one wants access on 159, and we understand that. In order to build the road off from 160, you have to have access to 159 for machines and fuel trucks. We didn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to use that road for construction purposes. To build that road that everybody wants away from 159, we have to be able to use that road for the limited purpose of constructing the other road.”

At an August meeting, Kaempfer said he would accept Brager’s condition that there is no access to Route 159, but that was before he understood Rhodes would need it for construction, he said.

“I made a mistake in not clarifying,” Kaempfer said. “My client didn’t say to me he needed it for construction purposes. There’s nothing sinister here.”

County staff recommended waiving the restriction, noting a settlement agreement negotiated last year allows access to Route 159. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones said Rhodes could use Route 159 during the early phase of construction. County attorneys have advised the commission that it can’t reject the project because of location, or the judge might step in and make zoning decisions.

“It’s not looking that I would change my mind at this point in time,” Brager said. “I believe there was clear direction in the (August) meeting. I stand by that.”

Commissioner Tom Collins said allowing the developer to access Route 159 “is least harmful to the folks that live there.” He suggested that the state should make the byway “more of a touristy road and not a full access state highway,” by lowering the 50 mph speed limit to help keep travelers safe.

Rhodes also wants the county to waive the condition requiring Bureau of Land Management approval for the road ultimately built off Route 160 before the county would approve the specific plan that finalizes the land use plan and identifies issues with the project.

County staff is recommending denial for the second request, calling it pre­mature because it hasn’t been determined whether this road would be public or private.

Rhodes has said he wants the county to file the BLM application. Brager said that right-of-way access across BLM land is Rhodes’ responsibility and not the county’s. Once the application is filed, it could take between 18 months and three years for BLM and associated agencies to decide whether the new road is public or private, according to county staff.

Heather Fisher, director of the Save Red Rock Canyon group which protests the project, said she was relieved that the County Commission postponed the discussion.

“We are absolutely against the waivers because they will ruin the scenic byway,” Fisher said. “We don’t want to see that at all. We’re happy the commission at least didn’t want to go forward with it right away. It’s a good sign they’ll take some more time on it.”

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at
kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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