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Housing project near Red Rock Canyon advances after $80M settlement

Updated June 19, 2024 - 7:12 pm

A nearly 20-year legal dispute over a development on Blue Diamond Hill has finally come to an end.

Clark County commissioners unanimously approved an $80 million settlement with Gypsum Resources on Tuesday, citing a desire to avoid a possible $2 billion award against the county and future liability related to the project.

Commissioner Jim Gibson said the settlement is “the best we can do under the circumstances.”

“This is not about us having options and, ‘We’re going to fight to the end.’ We’ve fought to the end,” Gibson said. “Our apologies to those who are disappointed. We join you in being disappointed that we’re approving a project really the way we are.”

Justin Jones abstained from voting on the motion.

County Manager Kevin Schiller said that the county — for the first time in its history — performed a financial solvency analysis and concluded that the county could not sustain a loss of $2 billion, damages which were requested by Gypsum in the litigation.

“This will have resulted in a detrimental impact to the health and safety services provided by Clark County,” Schiller said.

County officials announced the proposed deal last week. The settlement — which aims to preserve the area’s natural landscape and access to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area — will allow Gypsum to go forward with its stalled housing development with some restrictions.

Gypsum Resources developer Jim Rhodes said he was looking forward to the project.

“I look forward to working with the brightest minds in planning, engineering and architecture to create a world-class project,” he said. “It’s one of the best remaining pieces of property in the United States.”

The deal was met with concern from SEIU Local 1107 members and other people who spoke in public comment.

Union members, who rallied in front of the county government building Tuesday morning, called for commissioners to not use funds that they say should be used to address vacancies and encourage retention of current employees.

Taking funds from the county’s general fund could harm the county’s ability to address its approximate 20 percent vacancy rate, union members said. The shortage could be fixed by increased salaries and cost-of-living increases, benefits union members argued are better at local jurisdictions.

“If you take that money from the general fund, you’re taking it away from county workers and county services. You’re taking away the ability to fix the staffing crisis we face,” union member Alexis Esparza said. “Are they going to fix their legal mistake on the backs of workers and this community? Or are they going to start supporting us?”

Schiller told commissioners that the funds would come from the county’s capital improvement fund, which he said is not eligible for employee salaries or positions and is one-time funding.

In a statement, union spokesperson Chris Coil said the county is “hiding behind accounting tricks” to take money away from workers.

“SEIU members strongly disagree with the assertion that one-time money cannot be used to help alleviate the staffing crisis that Clark County has created, which is harming both workers and the public services that the community depends on,” Coli said.

The rally comes on the same day union representatives are set to enter their seventh bargaining session with the county. The sides remain “far apart,” according to a union news release.

Some people who spoke in public comment, including members of Save Red Rock, argued that the development could harm the area and raised concerns about increased traffic near Red Rock Canyon.

As part of the settlement, Gypsum’s development would be limited to 3,500 homes, down from the 5,000 homes previously approved by the board. It would also be contingent on Bureau of Land Management right-of-way approval to divert traffic from state Route 159 to state Route 160.

The deal also requires that the county will be able to acquire 192 acres of the “most environmentally sensitive land” in the conservation area for $1 after the development’s final map is approved.

The agreement follows a District Court ruling that county officials willfully destroyed evidence related to the development, including Commissioner Justin Jones. The ruling came ahead of a jury trial set for July.

Last year, Gypsum filed the suit in state court after a federal judge dropped federal claims brought against the county.

Rhodes brought action against the county after planning for a 5,000-unit residential master-planned community stalled when county commissioners voted down a key measure.

Rhodes alleges county officials purposefully blocked the proposed housing project.

The county’s move to settle the case was influenced in part by a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld a District Court decision ordered the city of Las Vegas to pay $48 million to the owner of the defunct Badlands golf course.

County Commission Chair Tick Segerblom called on the state Supreme Court to “rethink” its decision in the recent case.

“I really want the Supreme Court to look hard at what they’re telling us and to rethink the fact that if we want to listen to our neighbors, to our constituents, to our voters, and if it fits within our rights, we should be able to make that decision,” Segerblom said. “We should not be bound by some developer who says, ‘No, we want to build the biggest of the best.’”

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on X.

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