Meeting no day in the park

Parks are supposed to be fun and relaxing. But a three-hour debate Wednesday about the future of parks in Mountain’s Edge subdivision was somber and tense.

Mountain’s Edge residents have complained for 18 months that Focus Property Group, the developer, promised high-end parks to lure them into buying homes there and now was scrapping the plans and reneging on a written agreement.

Focus executives have said the collapsing real estate market battered the company financially, forcing it to scale down its proposed parks at the 3,500-acre planned community near Blue Diamond Road and Buffalo Drive.

They asked that they be allowed to build three parks with fewer amenities than outlined in a development agreement.

County commissioners played referee in the dispute and nudged the two sides to a compromise after much haggling.

Focus will build a 20-acre park with playing fields, hard courts, a flying-disc golf course, walking trails and a water feature. Work is scheduled to start next year and finish in 2011.

Two other parks will have all of the features originally planned. Work on those will start when the number of homes built in Mountain’s Edge reaches a certain threshold. That could take several years, giving the company time to rebound financially, county officials said.

Meanwhile, the company is freed from an obligation to develop the first 25 acres of a regional park until the real estate market improves.

“I think it was a good compromise,” said John Ritter, Focus chief executive.

But Gene Leed, a resident, said he was disappointed that Focus will not be compelled to develop a portion of the regional park, which would create playing fields for organized sports.

“Our community is the size of Boulder City, and without ball fields,” Leed said.

What’s more, people paid top dollar for lots near the tract where the regional park is planned, he said.

Ritter said he had aimed to use federal grant money to develop a section of the regional park. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management denied his grant requests three times, he said.

An estimated 16,000 people live in 7,700 homes in Mountain’s Edge. A couple dozen showed up at Wednesday’s meeting.

At one point, the meeting turned into a showdown.

Residents pressed commissioners to make Focus stick to its original agreement for parks.

Ritter insisted he could not afford to comply with that plan. If the county tried to push it on him, he would walk away without spending another dime on Mountain’s Edge, including money for roads, he said.

Ritter said he could guarantee them three parks with fewer features.

But residents made clear that they would risk getting no parks rather than see Ritter be freed of any earlier promises.

“I’m befuddled,” Commissioner Rory Reid said. “I’ve never seen a community offered a park and not want it.”

He and several other commissioners questioned whether residents thought Ritter was lying about being short on money.

The same commissioners said they believed him because, unlike many developers, he chose to stick around in tough times.

“We’re just in a bad situation,” Commissioner Larry Brown said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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