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Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development — VIDEO

Updated April 17, 2019 - 4:58 pm

The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.

Gypsum Resources, LLC — which for at least a decade has tried to advance a development plan on the site of a working gypsum mine — had requested the county consider its plan before the Bureau of Land Management decides on a right-of-way application for access to the project.

“It’s a much more effective process,” project spokesman Ron Krater said. The developer noted that the preliminary plan would offer no entitlements or rights to build.

A timeline approved in 2011 by commissioners, however, dictated that BLM approval must come before review and possible adoption of the specific plan that would address development standards, streetscapes, traffic and other project details. County commissioners on Wednesday were unanimously unwilling to do things out of order. (The specific plan is the second step in the major projects process and precedes a development agreement and land use approval, according to county documents.)

The move ensures commissioners will not reconsider the development until after the BLM’s decision.

Opponents cheer

Opponents of the project welcomed the decision. Heather Fisher, president of Save Red Rock, a grassroots advocacy group that favors preservation of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, called the move “monumental.”

Yet Krater suggested “we haven’t lost a step” due to the decision. Gypsum Resources submitted a draft environmental document to the BLM in late January and the revised right-of-way application in 2017. The developer has spent $500,000 over four years on the process, Krater added.

He said it may even be in the “best interests of the project” to craft the specific plan with input from new commissioners who have joined the board since the plan was submitted last year.

“So I think the time spent between now and getting the right of way would be better spent engaging with this commission and trying to develop a plan that is acceptable to them,” he said.

One of the commissioners, however, is Justin Jones, an attorney who formerly represented Save Red Rock and who has been a consistent opponent of the development.

Before the vote, Jones said he obtained a January opinion from the Nevada Ethics Commission that indicated he would not need to abstain from matters pertaining to Gypsum Resources as long as he disclosed his ties.

Jones insisted that having served as Red Rock’s legal counsel would not preclude him from being fair.

“Despite the Ethics Commission opinion, some have said it would be easier for me to abstain from today’s vote,” he said. “That may be true, but the voters in District F did not elect me to shy from my voting on issues that matter to them, especially not this issue.”

He voted for one waiver to Gypsum Resources that was approved Wednesday: Providing the developer with access to State Route 159 for emergencies and temporarily for construction during the initial phase of development. The access was part of a legal settlement reached between the county and the developer, and doesn’t commit the county to a decision either way on the project.

Full-press opposition

Before Wednesday’s zoning commission meeting, Save Red Rock organized outside the county government center. Roughly 30 members wore red T-shirts. Some, including children, held signs. “Don’t compromise our rural integrity,” one read. “Preserve not destroy,” read another.

Fisher said the group had collected more than 50,000 signatures plus thousands more that came in Tuesday from people pleading to keep Red Rock Canyon rural.

The proposal for mixed-use buildout on 2,010 acres has long been controversial because it is in an area surrounded on three sides by Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Fisher said the number of yearly visitors to Red Rock had tripled to 3 million since the battle over the development began at least a decade ago, underscoring that construction traffic and congestion would only add to the crowding.

“Red Rock needs more space to breathe,” she said. “We need a place to get away from the city.”

Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani recalled the development being one of the first agenda items in front of her when she joined the board in 2007.

“I guess my message today is enough is enough,” Giunchigliani said. “More importantly, this is about our community, ecotourism. We can generate economic development in a completely clean, safe, natural way.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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