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Panel delays ‘business friendly’ changes to Las Vegas city code

A proposal that could make it easier to open anything from an animal hospital to an auto repair garage in Las Vegas was delayed Tuesday by City Council members who worried it would undermine their oversight authority.

The council’s recommending committee, a three-member group that vets proposals before they reach the full council, voted unanimously to delay for 30 days a plan that could dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to get permits needed to open a business.

The proposal, presented by planning department director Flinn Fagg, would change about 20 different types of use permits in order for the city to more quickly approve them.

But the changes, which would reduce or eliminate the need for the council to approve specific permits, prompted worries by committee members that they would be powerless to intervene in developments their constituents oppose.

“I have a great concern about that,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said. “I really feel this takes away the authority of the elected officials.”

Ward 4 Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony was particularly worried about downgrading the permit to open a swap meet or auto repair shop from a special use to a conditional use.

The change would essentially take away the need for the applicant to go before the planning commission and City Council and instead allow city staff members to approve the permit so long as the business meets pre­determined conditions.

Removing a stop at the City Council can shave as much as 100 days off the timeline to open a business, Fagg told the committee.

But, Anthony said, it could also make it hard for council members to intervene on behalf of people or neighborhood groups who oppose specific developments.

“This is kind of a big deal,” he said. “We want to be business friendly but we want to make sure we are doing the right thing.”

The proposal is part of a broader effort by city officials to make it easier to do business in Las Vegas without running afoul of municipal government.

A summary Fagg presented to the rec ommending committee showed 13 uses that would be changed from “special” to “conditional.” They included animal hospital, auto repair garage, bed-and-breakfast, swap meet and others.

It also included 11 uses that would be changed from special or conditional to “permitted,” meaning they would be allowable. That list included lumber yards, RV parks, garden supply stores and hospice centers.

In all the cases the changes only apply in certain zoning districts, for example an auto repair garage or swap meet would need to be in a general commercial district.

Business uses that don’t comply with specific commercial, industrial or residential zoning restrictions would still need special permission.

“You are relying on the zoning,” Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin said. “A bed-and-breakfast, I can see that is harmless because it is going into multi-family (zoning) anyway.”

In addition to streamlining permits, the proposal would delete about 32 types of land use designations and consolidate them into more general categories.

Committee members discussed ways to insert an appeal procedure into the process, but Chief Deputy City Attorney Val Steed said if council members retain the power to veto or cancel approvals by staff, a business owner with an approved use has “essentially gone nowhere” in terms of having certainty he or she can proceed.

“I don’t think there is any real middle ground,” Steed said.

Instead, the committee decided it would use the 30-day delay to consider whether any of the uses proposed for streamlined approval should be removed from the list.

City clerk Beverly Bridges said the item is scheduled to return to the recommending committee Aug.14.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at
bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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