56°F
weather icon Clear

Badlands dispute has cost Las Vegas taxpayers over $2M

Updated February 14, 2020 - 12:19 pm

In the long-running tumult over stalled residential development on the shuttered Badlands golf course in Las Vegas, the costs to city taxpayers have exceeded an unwelcome milestone: $1.5 million in legal fees.

And that burden could soon grow as the City Council has authorized another roughly $1 million in future legal spending, city records show.

“If we do not find a resolution we are going to spend millions in litigation and this could go on for years,” said Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, who campaigned in part on a pledge to settle the conflict between the developer and neighbors in the upscale Queensridge neighborhood she represents in Ward 2.

But even as the council has made recent overtures to EHB Cos., the company that has tried for years to build housing on the closed golf course weaving through the upscale Queensridge development near Summerlin, it seems unlikely that an end to rolling court expenses is in sight.

“The moral of the story is: We don’t trust the city one bit,” said EHB CEO Yohan Lowie.

Lowie said his company was prepared to fight alleged city wrongdoing “forever and ever.” But the city seeks to stop the bleeding, and a spokesman for project opponents in Queensridge remains skeptical of both.

Vow to ensure no repeat

Since 2015, proposed residential development plans in varying scope have been assailed by Queensridge neighbors for being incompatible with the area, and mostly rejected or kicked down the road by city lawmakers. It set off a campaign of litigation by EHB over the past two years, accusing city officials of restricting use of private property, unlawfully delaying applications and bias — although that allegation was dismissed in court.

For outsiders, the charges spelled out in at least a dozen ongoing lawsuits — including two filed by a local laborers’ union with a stake in construction — might appear to reflect a dispute over labyrinthine land use matters. But for Lowie, who said he can no longer develop the land because of the city’s actions and the changed real estate market, the issue is clear.

Lowie said he is committed to proving that the city government took away his rights to develop on 250 acres of the company’s property without providing compensation while performing the bidding of a few wealthy Queensridge residents who sought to extort him.

“It’s never going to happen to someone else in the state of Nevada,” he said. “That’s what we’re fighting (for) here.”

The stakes could be high: Lowie estimated that the city would be liable for over $1 billion in damages.

He also said he “took no pride” in litigation putting taxpayers on the hook, but at least two more lawsuits were forthcoming.

Nothing more than a ruse

Gaming attorney, Frank Schreck, a major opponent of EHB’s plans to construct homes and condominiums on the site of the former greens, is not convinced that Lowie will abandon development efforts on the former golf course and he called the billion-dollar damage projection “nonsense.”

“I still think it’s part of a ruse to put the pressure on the city so the city can argue, ‘we’re saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars’ and the city can give him what he wants,” Schreck said.

Schreck, a Queensridge resident, reiterated that EHB’s projects have failed because it simply never secured the rights to develop. And Lowie cannot argue that the city infringed upon rights he does not have, he said.

“But the façade is that unless we settle this, he’s going to win all this money,” Schreck said, adding that Lowie doesn’t have a case that the city “took” his property and he knows it.

One of few residents acting as the voice of that community in this feud, Schreck is also a target of Lowie’s extortion claim. As he did three years ago when he and others were accused in a legal filing of demanding land and water rights from EHB, Schreck rejected wrongdoing.

“I don’t know what motivates this guy,” he said, speaking broadly about Lowie. “I think a lot of times he believes his own bulls—t.”

Legal fees rise as city seeks talks

Questions about the validity of EHB’s residential projects will continue to play out in court, but as they do, the city remains mired in escalating legal fees.

The city has spent nearly $1.57 million as of mid-January, city records show, more than enough money to cover one-fifth of the operating budget for the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center. It has hired six private law firms since April 2018 to provide either legal or consulting services in ongoing litigation.

Another $448,000 in staff hours have been spent — the majority between fiscal years 2015 and 2018 — working on Badlands redevelopment proposals, raising the total cost to the city to over $2 million, according to the data, obtained in a public records request.

Most city lawmakers last month voted to ease city rules governing the redevelopment of open spaces and shuttered golf courses, repealing and replacing an ordinance that Lowie called “bogus” and that EHB believed had singled it out.

In an overt effort to draw EHB to the negotiating table, the majority Council – Seaman included – agreed to side with EHB in the developer’s appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court over a lower court ruling in 2018 that invalidated a condo project.

Will there be a resolution?

Queensridge neighbors had successfully challenged in District Court that 435 condos on 17 acres at the closed golf course’s eastern edge near Alta Drive and Rampart Boulevard should have required a major modification to the master plan.

It was the only EHB project the Council had approved on the golf course. Schreck said he bet his law career that the state Supreme Court would affirm that it was improper.

He also criticized the city for fighting a court case against its best legal interests and for failing to protect Queensridge homeowners opposed to high-density development and who he said have seen their property values plummet.

“They didn’t say anything when we were spending millions of dollars to protect ourselves,” he said.

But neither recent council decision seems to have moved the needle.

Instead Lowie vowed “to take it all the way to the end” in the courts, saying he was only interested in talks with city officials on laws that would prevent the council from treating others how he said he had been.

“The city’s in a world of hurt and we intend to prosecute it,” he said.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic declined to speak about specifics of ongoing litigation.

“Since I’ve been with the city, it’s not often, but it has happened before, that you get involved with litigation that is protracted and just costly,” Jerbic said. “You’d be irresponsible not to try to resolve it and we’re going to continue to.”

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Nevada caucus in photos
Best shots from the Review-Journal photo staff's coverage of the Nevada Caucus, Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Bernie Sanders announces his Nevada caucus win to supporters in Texas
At a rally in San Antonio, Texas, Bernie Sanders announces winning the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Joe Biden addresses supporters in Las Vegas
Joe Biden energizes a crowd of supporters at the IBEW Hall in Las Vegas after the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Tweet highlights from the 2020 Nevada Democratic caucus
Confusion, flaring tempers and misinformed volunteers highlighted Review-Journal tweets during the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Voters comment on Nevada Democratic caucus - VIDEO
Nevada caucusgoers comment on the process from locations across the Las Vegas Valley, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doolittle Community Center hosts caucuses - VIDEO
The Doolittle Community Center hosted six precincts in one room for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, and voters engaged in debate and discussion about who to lead each precinct, Feb. 22, 2020. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Desert Oasis High School has wait for caucus check-in - VIDEO
James Strange has been waiting in line to caucus for the first time for 45 minutes and some said they have been waiting for an hour at Desert Oasis High School for the Nevada Democratic caucuses. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Conservative guru encourages Republicans to vote in Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Republican activist Chuck Muth encourages his fellow GOP members to change party affiliation for a day to elect Bernie Sanders. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee at Desert Oasis High School - VIDEO
Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., stopped by the Nevada Democratic caucus at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day in Summerlin - VIDEO
Out-of-state caucus observer Ken Valz speaks about the Nevada Democratic caucuses at Palo Verde High School, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doors open for Nevada Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Caucusgoers are lining up Saturday morning to take part in the Nevada Democratic caucuses across the state (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day at East Last Vegas Community Center - VIDEO
Registration begins at the East Las Vegas Community Center for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It’s caucus day in Nevada - VIDEO
Democrats will gather at over 250 locations across the state to declare their presidential preferences in the Nevada caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High - VIDEO
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High in Henderson, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren holds rally with Julian Castro
Elizabeth Warren held her Get Out the Caucus Block Party with Secretary Julián Castro at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater.
Trump caps western swing with campaign rally in Las Vegas
President Trump speaks to an enthusiastic crowd of thousands gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center during a tour across the western United States.
Anti-Trump Protestors at LVCC Rally - Video
President Trump speaks at a Keep America Great rally as a small group of protesters gather outside the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Thousands gather for Trump rally
Thousands showed up for President Donald Trump’s rally Friday morning, forming a line that stretched nearly a quarter mile around the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, where President Trump will held a rally on Friday in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
President Trump lands in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Donald Trump landed in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as part of a four-day western state swing. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Long lines during early voting in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The final day of the Nevada Democratic Party’s early presidential caucuses wrapped up Tuesday, as thousands of Democrats lined up at 55 locations around the state for their last shot at filing an early preference card before the traditional caucuses on Saturday. Long lines were seen at CSN Charleston in Las Vegas. (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Last day for early voting at Culinary Union - VIDEO
Voters were still in line just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as early voting in the Nevada Democratic Party caucuses came to a close. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pigeons wearing MAGA hats in Las Vegas - VIDEO
A flock of pigeons wearing Make America Great Again hats and one sporting a Donald Trump hairdo invaded downtown Las Vegas late Tuesday, following their release by an anonymous group: P.U.T.I.N. (Pigeons, United to Interfere Now). (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tuesday is last day to early vote in Nevada Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Early voting in the Nevada Democratic caucuses ends Tuesday, with sites open throughout Clark County. (Michael Quine and James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk pay for child care workers - Video
Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk to care in action about the importance of Medicare for All, paid leave and child care. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Elizabeth Warren barnstorms Nevada ahead of caucuses - VIDEO
Warren is trying to drum up enthusiasm about her campaign after finishing fourth in the New Hampshire primary. Her rally drew about 400 people to the student union of the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Jacky Rosen encourages early voting at Culinary Workers 226 - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., spoke to those casting early caucus votes at the Culinary Workers hall on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. Early voting in the Nevada Democratic caucuses continues Tuesday. The Nevada Caucuses are Saturday, Feb. 22. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2020 candidates rally in Southern Nevada ahead of caucus - VIDEO
2020 candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders held rallies all over Southern Nevada on Saturday ahead of the Democratic caucus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
First day of early voting - VIDEO
Nevada Democrats turned out in force on Saturday for the first day of early voting in the Democratic presidential caucuses.
Biden and Sully Sullenberger speak in Henderson - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden and famed pilot Sully Sullenberger spoke at Sun City MacDonald Ranch to get out the vote for early voting for the Nevada caucus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Poll: Bernie Sanders leads Democratic presidential candidates - VIDEO
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the presidential field by a solid margin among likely Democratic caucus-goers heading into Nevada’s four-day early voting period, with with 25 percent of respondents expressing support. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Poll: caucus vs. primary - VIDEO
A new Nevada Poll finds two-thirds of likely Democratic caucus-goers surveyed in a Review-Journal poll say they’d like to see Nevada replace its caucuses with a secret-ballot primary election to determine support for a presidential nominee. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus events Leading up to Caucus Day 2020 - VIDEOl
As presidential candidates make their way to Las Vegas, here's a look at events, dates and times for the days leading up to Nevada's Caucus Day 2020 on Feb. 22. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus and Early Voting - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus discussion with Steve Sebelius about the Nevada Caucus and early voting.
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus Discussion with Steve Sebelius. Join us as we discuss the Nevada Caucus process.
Las Vegas ready to enforce homeless camping ban - VIDEO
Las Vegas police will begin enforcing a controversial camping ban on city streets on Saturday, but officials say they expect to impose the penalties available under the new ordinance only in rare instances. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Yvanna Cancela Speaks on Supporting Biden - Video
The RJ Politics podcast crew sits down with Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela to discuss why she is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
Pete Buttigieg Speaks At Black Empowerment Event - Video
Pete Buttigieg speaks at a black empowerment event to talk about his Douglass plan.
THE LATEST