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Taxpayers potentially on hook for $223M in Badlands battle

Updated August 16, 2023 - 6:10 pm

Las Vegas taxpayer liability in the court battle with the would-be developer of the defunct Badlands golf course may have surpassed $200 million, according to a Monday court ruling, a development that one councilwoman called “financial Armageddon” for the city.

District Judge Anna Albertson ruled that EHB Cos. — which is headed by CEO Yohan Lowie — is entitled to the fair-market value of 65 acres of land, which a different judge had previously ruled was illegally taken, court documents show.

Attorneys for Lowie had appraised the plot of land at $141 million, according to a separate court filing in July.

In all, four cases filed by EHB since the years-long legal battle are in various stages of litigation.

Judges in three cases have ruled that the city illegally took the property by not allowing land-use entitlements. One judge set judgment for 17 acres at $48 million, and another at $34 million for 35 acres.

The current order — if it stands — pushes the total to $223 million, not including interest penalties and attorney fees.

A fourth case for a much larger plot of land — 133 acres — is currently stayed in court, attorney Autumn Waters told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Victoria Seaman has continuously pushed the city to settle, noting in a Tuesday statement that not doing so could “spell financial Armageddon” for the city.

“During my time on the council, I have been one of the few if not lone voice advocating for a resolution that protected the taxpayers and allowed the city and the residents of Queensridge to move forward. But my warnings have fallen on deaf ears,” she said. “Four years later, we now face damages of over 240 million dollars, adding tens of thousands of dollars a day in interest.”

She added: “This is a wake-up call to my colleagues at the city to take up the property owner’s recent offer to mediate a resolution and settle this once and for all for the taxpayers and protect the city from financial ruin.”

Waters said that EHB’s legal team is confident that the judge in that case will also rule in their favor.

“This has been an extremely long, hard fought process,” wrote Vickie DeHart, a partner with EHB, in a Tuesday statement. “The City has caused delay and excessive costs at every turn. Although we will never be fully compensated for the damages the City has caused to us, the award we received yesterday is a step in the right direction and a vindication for private property rights in the State of Nevada.”

The city has maintained that it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Years of stalling

Plans to build at the 250-acre plot of land began to stall shortly after EHB purchased it in 2015.

Citing fears of high density and dwindling property values, a coalition of residents of the upscale Queensridge neighborhood — which surrounds the golf course near Summerlin — objected to development.

The series of lawsuits were triggered by disagreements at City Hall about zoning.

Ex-Councilman Steve Seroka campaigned against allowing development, and ousted former Councilman Bob Beers, before Seroka himself resigned in 2019 amid a recall effort.

The lawsuits could have been settled for $64 million a year ago, including land-use entitlements and $15 million for building a drainage facility on property, according to city documents.

However, negotiations broke down hours before the City Council was set to discuss the proposed resolution in a public meeting. Lowie said at the time that the city had tried changing the terms of the agreement at the last minute.

Meanwhile, the city recently approved allocating $1.5 million this fiscal year to a trio of outside law firms to continue the court battle. Since the litigation began, the city has spent just over $5.5 million defending itself, mostly in legal fees.

A Lowie representative wrote this month to the Review-Journal that EHB remained open to a resolution outside of court.

“If the City truly wanted to settle the four lawsuits, it would agree to mediation with the mayor and as many councilpersons present that complies with the open meeting laws,” he wrote. “The Landowners have always been willing to pursue this course.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com Follow on X @rickytwrites.

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