Eminent domain skeptic sees money motivations

Sharon Linsenbardt knows all about the struggles of losing a home to eminent domain.

In the late 1970s, she lived in her childhood home, built three decades earlier by her father on Elm Avenue near Stewart Avenue and Bruce Street in downtown Las Vegas. Then the government came a calling. It wanted her home and neighboring houses to build Interstate 515, perhaps more commonly known as U.S. Highway 95, to connect the west side of the valley to the east.

She vividly remembers her property being bulldozed. She recalls hauling away the uprooted trees her grandmother had planted.

“It was the hardest thing in the world to give up my house,” Linsenbardt said. “I was grief-stricken.”

And angry.

Linsenbardt drove to the northwest, miles and miles from town, but close enough so that running errands wouldn’t take an entire day. She figured with the Las Vegas skyline a dot on the horizon from her home on Grand Teton Drive and nothing but desert between, she was safe from encroaching development. She built her custom dream home.

Then the government came a calling.

It was the 1990s and Clark County was designing the 53-mile Las Vegas Beltway. The northwest portion initially was drawn along, you guessed it, Grand Teton.

Linsenbardt lost her mind.

“I fought like a banty rooster,” she said. “I was the only one out there and I had just gone through 10 years of that. I said, ‘No, no, no, this is not going to happen twice to one human being.’ ”

The county ultimately opted to run the Beltway along Centennial Parkway, but Linsenbardt’s life is far from the peaceful existence she envisioned when she built her house. As the population exploded, stucco cookie-cutter homes crept closer and closer. Then the kicker: Owners of the tranquil Gilcrease Orchard — a swath of greenery across her narrow street — gave up a huge chunk of its land for the construction of a high school.

Despite the noise and unexpected company, Linsenbardt has made the most of her situation, keeping her farm running and selling fresh eggs. Understandably, she is a major opponent of eminent domain and suspicious of any government move to take property. She never wants other Las Vegans to experience her own nightmare.

Yet, the government will soon come a calling.

You would think with the economy tanking and new development essentially nonexistent, this would no longer be a concern.

However, the Department of Transportation is preparing to begin a major road reconfiguration dubbed Project Neon, and as the venture progresses dozens of businesses and nearly 350 homes will fall victim to eminent domain.

Most affected homeowners are aware of the project designed to improve traffic flow on and around Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl. They’re just not sure when they will be asked to leave.

Nor is Cole Mortensen, a transportation department senior project manager.

“It is difficult to sit down and give people a concrete answer,” Mortensen said. “A lot of it is dependent on funding.”

What Mortensen does know is that his division will begin work within the next year.

Crews will revamp Charleston at Interstate 15, which we all realize needs improvement. A more traditional diamond shape interchange will be built, making it easier to access Charleston and the freeway. Many of the traffic signals on Charleston downtown will be removed, making the commute far more fluid. Also, a ramp from the Charleston-Interstate 15 interchange will feed directly into the intersection of Bonneville Avenue and Grand Central Parkway.

A new flyover will connect express lanes on Interstate 15 with high-occupancy vehicles lanes on U.S. Highway 95.

Western Avenue will be widened and connected to Grand Central Parkway with a bridge over Charleston, again improving traffic flow. Wall Street, which now dead ends at Western, will extend to Martin Luther King Boulevard, providing another freeway access point.

Now a lot of nay-sayers will suggest that this isn’t necessary, given the slowdown in development and population growth. But Mortensen said the department is still playing catch-up with the boom of the past and must also brace for the future.

“We know right now the economy isn’t the greatest and traffic is leveling off, but we still need to prepare for the future,” Mortensen said. “There are going to be more cars using that stretch of I-15 and that is already a high incident area for us.”

(This is demonstrated by the bazillion accidents a minute on the 15 at Sahara).

Anyway, that is the department’s reasoning. Linsenbardt, being the ultimate eminent domain skeptic, has other thoughts.

She said the city of Las Vegas is so intent on drawing a professional sports team and building an arena downtown that it pushed the transportation department to expedite improving access to the area to attract potential investors. Mortensen acknowledged that an arena has been discussed, but having only joined the project in January, he is unsure what prompted the Project Neon.

Linsenbardt is also convinced that not all the land taken will be used for road projects and will ultimately benefit a new buyer when property values increase, if an arena is built.

She certainly doesn’t mince words when it comes to eminent domain issues.

“This isn’t odd, it’s politically criminal,” Linsenbardt said. “They’re touting this as if it’s going to be a great thing and provide better access. It will provide better access but to private enterprises so they can make a ton of money.”

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior@reviewjournal
.com. Please include your phone number.

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