Kickoff for the Southern Highlands United youth soccer fall season isn’t until next Sunday, but coaches have spent two weeks competing — for space, not goals — in Inzalaco Park.
Before these teams meet in an official match, they vie until sunset twice a week for space to practice on the 5-acre park’s unlighted lawn. Every Monday and Thursday for the next three months, parents will face a similar struggle to obtain one of 30 parking spots. Some will resort to leaving their vehicles on the street.
The area is so cramped that coach Dave Whitaker moved spring practices for the Southern Highlands Dragons to the nearby community of Mountain’s Edge.
He’s come back, for now.
“Because of road construction, some of the parents were saying it was taking them 30 minutes to get out there,” he said. “I know we aren’t the only team from Southern Highlands that practices out there.”
The long wait
Families in this community of approximately 7,300 homes have waited more than a decade for a promised public sports park with ample parking and lighted soccer fields.
Southern Highlands has a clear need for such a facility, and Olympia Companies, the developer behind the master-planned community, agreed with Clark County in January 2006 to build a sports park within two years.
But the proposed park site southeast of Evelyn Stuckey Elementary School remains a field of dirt. Construction was repeatedly pushed back while Olympia Companies accumulated enough money through sluggish land sales to fund construction.
The company has a deal with the county to build all the community’s parks in exchange for not paying a special construction tax of up to $1,000 a home.
“Ultimately it’s less expensive, and for the most part it’s done quicker than if the county had to do it,” said Nancy Amundsen, the county’s director of comprehensive planning. “The developer is geared up (to build). They’ve got their grading equipment. They’re putting in their infrastructure.”
From 1999 through 2007, Olympia Companies built seven parks and one paseo in Southern Highlands. The sports park is the last park promised in its development agreement with the county.
County records show that the company spent about $7 million to build the paseo and the four largest parks and that it has received about $5.2 million in tax credits. About $1 million of those tax credits remains.
All the parks are open to the public, but that could change because the county never implemented an important part of its deal with Southern Highlands Development.
Southern Highlands was awarded tax credits without obtaining irrevocable contracts guaranteeing the parks would be public forever. Such a contract was obtained for only one park in Southern Highlands: a grassy water detention basin that has no parking lot and is subject to flash floods.
A 2011 county audit determined that without the contracts, the other six parks could be privatized after the development agreement expires.
“Without Public Access Easement agreements and land use restrictions in place, the general public interests for the life of the park are not protected once the development agreement expires on November 18, 2023,” audit director Angela Darragh wrote.
Fast-forward to 2017 and county spokesman Dan Kulin says the development agreement, expired or not, is enough to immortalize public access to the parks, but the county is still seeking the public access easements.
They have remained elusive, however.
Southern Highlands Development granted ownership of the parks to the community’s homeowners association years ago. The move has shifted the annual burden of more than $1 million to maintain the parks onto homeowners but has also given them control of the parks.
Olympia Companies vice president of planning Chris Armstrong said he expects the HOA board to approve the easements at its meeting this month. He blamed the yearslong delay on difficulties drafting a contract pleasing to all parties.
“The intent was always to have the easements recorded,” he said. “It should all be buttoned down shortly.”
County’s leverage questioned
Construction on the sports park will begin this month, Armstrong said.
If the park isn’t open by June, county commissioners say they will stop issuing building permits for homes in Southern Highlands. If permits are frozen, Armstrong said, Olympia Companies will violate several of its contracts with homebuilders.
“So we don’t really have any option,” he said. “We want to build the park.”
The county reports that a grading permit has been issued for the park and that plans for shade structures, walls and lighting are being reviewed by the building department. County commissioners are scheduled to receive an update on the park’s construction at their Wednesday zoning meeting.
Mike Kosor, who has lived in Southern Highlands since 2011, has little faith commissioners will halt the developer if the project falls behind schedule. The county stopped issuing permits after a similar deadline passed 2012, but commissioners reversed the decision within two weeks.
The completion date has since been pushed back multiple times without a stoppage in the issuance of building permits. As of July, three-fourths of the available permits had been issued.
“The county has demonstrated repeatedly that it won’t hold up its end in stopping permits, which is the only leverage it has,” Kosor said. “And that leverage is rapidly running out.”
Kosor said a better protection would be to have the Olympia Companies post a bond for the project, like it has when building other parks. The county could call the bond if construction stopped and finish the park itself.
Armstrong said his company had no plans to post a bond, which county spokesman Erik Pappa said came as a surprise.
“We remain confident the project will be completed,” Pappa wrote in an email. “Some permits have been issued and work is already underway.”
As the sports park’s opening date has receded further from its initial January 2008 deadline, its amenities and size have been diminished. Gone are plans to build shaded spectator seating, a second parking lot and a lighted baseball fourplex complemented by two practice diamonds.
Jenny Pelcher, a Southern Highlands resident and former Silverado Little League board member, said it was disappointing news for league families. They have to travel to Silverado Ranch to practice and play games.
Last month, county commissioners pledged $6.6 million in public money to build a similar fourplex in Mountain’s Edge. While those fields will be closer, Little League rules forbid Southern Highlands teams from using them, Pelcher said.
“You might as well build a wall at Mountain’s Edge,” she said. “That’s not in our boundary, and we can only practice in our boundaries.”
Armstrong said the sports park’s amenities changes after the recession hurt land sales planned to fund its development and construction. He said the park will still be a “first-class” facility with three lighted soccer fields, a basketball court, a playground and a splash pad.
“I think it will be the jewel of Southern Highlands,” he said.
Contact Michael Scott Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.
Southern Highlands parks confuse county staff
Clark County has had a difficult time keeping track of parks in Southern Highlands.
An amendment to its development agreement with Olympia Companies in October 2015 stated that contracts guaranteeing public access to seven existing parks were recorded. A year later, after scrutiny by community resident Mike Kosor, county attorney Robert Warhola acknowledged that “an error was made” and no such agreements were recorded for any park.
Until late August, staff believed that Olympia Companies would post a bond to construct Southern Highlands’ long-promised sports park. It wasn’t until a Review-Journal reporter spoke with the company and learned they had plans to post a bond that the county found out.
The county also missed the mark on how much tax credit Olympia Companies had remaining.
Earlier this year it reported that the company ran used its last credit sometime between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2016. This week, the county reported that its previous calculation was wrong and Olympia Companies still had close to $1 million in tax credits remaining.