Neighbors near Floyd Lamb Park say they support a city of Las Vegas effort to rehabilitate a historic hay barn, built in 1946 and once used by local ranchers to store alfalfa.
But the pushback against the future of the roughly two-acre site at the far northwest Las Vegas park is rooted in the rest of the city’s plan: To convert the one-story building into an open-air pavilion for weddings and other large events.
Now a neighborhood group opposed to the project is seeking to prevent it from moving ahead, concerned that the repurposed barn will draw loud parties, threaten wildlife and ruin the rural and historic character of the lush 680-acre park. The group also claims the conversion violates the terms of state law and the agreement that led to the park’s official transfer from state to city control in 2007.
During the past two months, the uproar has led to protests, a complaint to state Attorney General Aaron Ford and instructions to cease and desist from a lawyer. An online petition against the plan had amassed nearly 24,000 signatures by Friday.
Enhance or disrupt?
Floyd Lamb Park is known as a former popular destination for people seeking to establish the six-week residency in Nevada in order to take advantage of the state’s comparably relaxed divorce laws. And it used to serve as a stagecoach stop between Las Vegas and northwestern mining districts.
Karen Livingston, leader of the Save Floyd Lamb Park action group that she says has roughly 200 members, said the park is presently revered as an oasis with open spaces. It is where visitors come to fish, picnic and ride horses, offering a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
“I don’t know of any other park in the city of Las Vegas that offers that experience,” she said.
But city officials say the conversion of the roughly 8,000-square-foot barn will enhance the park for residents and visitors when it is completed early next year. It will follow historical preservation guidelines and was approved by the City Council and state Historical Preservation Commission in February, the city said.
The city also denied that the project will violate terms of the transfer, which decreed that the park may only be used for “passive recreation.” The city underscored in a project handout to neighbors this month that the definition includes “group use” and “cultural events.”
The document noted that in May alone there were more than 35,000 visitors to the park. It also described how the park has routinely hosted large special events. But the functions over the years have not occurred inside the barn, which is presently used for equipment storage by the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
Fallout for Fiore
Councilwoman Michele Fiore — who represents Ward 6, where the park is located — is the elected official at the center of the dispute and whom neighbors have criticized for keeping them in the dark about the plans.
The controversy received new attention on June 11, when three organizers initiated a recall effort against Fiore for “racially charged” comments she is reported to have made during a recent Clark County Republican convention. Molly Taylor, one of the recall organizers, said the remarks were simply the tipping point to frustration over land-use decisions in the district, including on Floyd Lamb Park.
“It’s our beloved park. We go there for rest, relaxation, to walk the dogs,” Taylor said. “It’s just one of those last peaceful places we can go and that’s being challenged right now.”
Fiore addressed tension over the barn that same day when asked about it during a press conference held outside her home to speak about the GOP convention comments.
“So Floyd Lamb Park is not Michele Fiore’s park. It’s Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs,” she said. “We have a hay barn that needs to be restored, period. It’s not Michele’s restoration, it’s the people of the city of Las Vegas’ restoration.”
Gazebo planned, more could follow
The barn, constructed with reinforced concrete blocks and an open interior, is deteriorating and becoming a safety concern, city officials say. The plan to restore it, backed by a $150,000 grant from the Commission for the Las Vegas Centennial, includes minimal aesthetic repairs to the barn interior and finishes to its exterior, with a new fire suppression system and no demolition during structural improvements, according to city documents.
It is estimated to cost $1.3 million for the exterior work and new electrical, lighting and fire suppression, according to the city handout provided to neighbors.
But the strategy to convert the barn into an event center is more robust, documents show: A fenced garden area and event gazebo will be built north of the barn. A 3,000-square-foot building with restrooms and bride and groom quarters was approved to be constructed east of the barn in a future phase.
A concrete path will lead to the parking lot, which documents show originally was expected to be overhauled. But the recent city handout said there was no immediately planned work to repave, stripe or update the parking lot to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
City pledges ‘better communication’
In a cease-and-desist letter submitted to the City Council on June 4, attorney Mitchell Bisson, with Callister Law Group, laid out Save Floyd Lamb Park’s concerns, including that he understood the city had been allowing rodeo-style roping events at the park.
Neither the roping, nor an event center, could qualify as “passive recreation” as each places significant stress on natural resources at the park, he wrote.
In a response to the letter, newly appointed City Attorney Bryan Scott noted that the “types of occupancy” still needed to be finalized, but that the event center would be treated no differently than public rentals of existing pavilions at Floyd Lamb Park or other city parks.
“It’s clear that better communication would serve to address some of the concerns outlined in your letter,” Scott wrote back.
He added that he was working with city staff to ensure neighbors would have “a complete picture” of the city’s intentions, policies and practices related to park events.