The city of Las Vegas plans to intervene in an appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court on the side of the would-be developer of the defunct Badlands golf course and against neighbors who say city rules aren’t being followed.
The city’s pleadings will agree with the developer that a District Court judge’s ruling that invalidated a condo project on the golf course was flawed.
While the move would be consistent with the city’s legal opinion, there is another motive driving it: Drawing property owner EHB Cos. into negotiations in hopes of resolving the bitter legal feud that has proven costly to taxpayers while pitting developer rights against neighborhood objections.
The city expects to file a legal brief on Tuesday stating its opposition to a district court’s finding in January 2018 that stalled EHB Cos.’ council-approved plan to construct 435 condos on 17 acres at the course’s eastern edge, City Attorney Brad Jerbic said.
Clark County District Court Judge Jim Crockett had sided with neighbors in the Queensridge community surrounding the course near Summerlin, who have been concerned about high residential density and diminishing property values. They successfully argued that city rules should have required the developer to submit a major modification to the master plan.
EHB Cos. appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but in March 2018 a gridlocked city council could not reach a consensus on whether to wade into the fight. Last month, however, a council with three newly elected members voted 5-2 to authorize Jerbic to file the brief opposing Crockett’s ruling to the high court on the condition that EHB Cos. agreed to sit down for talks for the first time in at least two years.
Jerbic said the company has consented.
“Somebody’s got to make the first move, try and make a conversation happen that results in a good development, or a good result, period,” Jerbic told the Review-Journal. “We’re better off now than not talking at all.”
Over the past few years, as development plans in varying scope and size have capsized, EHB Cos. has filed a litany of district and federal lawsuits against the city. Charges have included that the city took its property and unlawfully delayed applications. In one since-dismissed suit, two councilmen were accused of bias.
Las Vegas so far has hired five private law firms for defense and allocated nearly $2 million in taxpayer dollars to the cause, spending nearly $963,000 in legal fees as of this month, according to city spokesman Jace Radke.
“There’s no end in sight,” Councilwoman Victoria Seaman said.
Before Seaman, a former assemblywoman, won election to represent Ward 2 in June, she had campaigned for the seat during a recall effort waged by a pro-development union against ex-Councilman Steve Seroka, who unabashedly criticized efforts to build on the closed golf course in his district.
Seaman, who garnered little voter support in Queensridge during the election, said this week that she supported the city’s legal opinion, sought to protect taxpayers and was “very optimistic” there will be a resolution to the feud.
Whenever Seaman has voted in favor of more funding to cover mounting legal fees, as she did last month, she has underscored her duty to defend city residents while simultaneously calling for EHB Cos. and Queensridge neighbors to reach compromise.
“I will do everything in my power as the representative of everyone in Ward 2 to help achieve such an outcome,” she said during the Sept. 18 meeting.
Concern over backroom deals
But even as city officials seek a middle-ground resolution, and Jerbic insisted that Queensridge neighbors will be included in talks, it is tough to fathom that a compromise may be feasible at this point, according to gaming attorney Frank Schreck, who reiterated that he and others were willing to consider a “reasonable” project compatible with the community.
Schreck, a Queensridge resident and respondent in the state Supreme Court case, had urged the council to require EHB Cos. to submit a major modification of the master plan governing the project area. He said this week he was concerned the city’s tactic to jumpstart negotiations would lead to a backroom deal between the city and EHB Cos. CEO Yohan Lowie to open up unrestricted development, “and then cram it down our throats.
He said homeowners have spent four to five times as much as the city in litigation. And he suggested the city would face new liability if Crockett’s decision was overturned, saying it would undo protections against EHB Co.’s claim that the city took the property. Jerbic disagreed that the city would argue anything that would harm the city’s legal position.
“This isn’t good government,” Schreck said. “It certainly isn’t good policy.”
Kermitt Waters, an attorney representing EHB Cos., said he preferred to wait until the legal brief was filed before commenting about potential negotiations but that a filing as Jerbic described it would merely be consistent with the city’s position.
“I would always tell the client if the other party is acting in good faith, maybe it’s time for him to act in good faith,” he said.
Councilman Stavros Anthony, who along with Councilman Cedric Crear opposed filing the brief, said he didn’t believe there had been a council consensus yet reached on the brief’s central tenet: Whether the developer was required to submit a major modification.
“That’s really between the developer and the judge at this point,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel the city should get involved even as he understood Jerbic’s efforts to smooth over the dispute.