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Fight over Jim Rhodes development near Red Rock Canyon continues

If you thought the Clark County Commission’s vote last month to approve a plan to build more than 5,000 homes near Red Rock was the end of things, you haven’t been paying attention.

Undaunted by the 5-2 vote in favor of the project, the citizens group Save Red Rock is continuing to fight the development in court. And a freshman assemblyman is taking another run at a state law that would limit development to the rural zoning that currently governs the land.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager, along with 23 colleagues in the Assembly and seven in the state Senate, has proffered Assembly Bill 277, which says no local government may increase the number of homes allowed on land within or adjacent to any national recreation area.

That’s important because of the long and twisted legal history of this project.

Back in 2003, when developer Jim Rhodes purchased the land on Blue Diamond Hill that overlooks the Las Vegas Valley and Red Rock Canyon, then-state Sen. Dina Titus moved to block development.

Senate Bill 358 — dubbed the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area and Adjacent Lands Act — prohibited changing the zoning to allow more homes “in the region of this state for which the … act establishes limits upon development.” And that region was diligently described down to the virtual inch by the legislation.

Rhodes and his company, Gypsum Resources, filed a federal lawsuit, that was eventually referred to the Nevada Supreme Court. The justices held that SB 358 was a “local or special law” prohibited by Article 4, Section 20 of the state constitution. And because the law was written so narrowly to apply only to the area near Red Rock, it also violated the constitutional requirement that laws passed by the Legislature have general application.

Finally, the court ruled that because SB 358 pre-empted some of Clark County’s powers, but not any other county’s, it ran afoul of the constitution’s requirement that county and township government be uniform.

By contrast, Yeager’s AB 277 applies to “any lands located in a national conservation area, national recreation area or adjacent lands.” In other words, any lands within five miles of a national recreation or conservation area anywhere in the state are subject to the bill’s prohibitions on zoning.

Yeager’s bill would also replace the old SB 358 with the new and more universally applicable language.

Will it pass muster with the courts? It’s not unreasonable to expect that we’re going to find out someday soon.

And speaking of courts, Save Red Rock is mounting a renewed legal attack on the county’s February vote. First, the group says that a 2011 plan submitted by Gypsum Resources to develop Blue Diamond Hill had expired, and that the county should have debated a newer, 2016 version. Instead, commissioners — relying on the advice of Deputy District Attorney Rob Warhola — ruled that the older plan had never expired, and based their approval on it.

Save Red Rock also contends that action was void under the state’s Open Meeting Law, because the agenda item did not indicate that the 2011 plan was the one to be debated, not the 2016 version. And the lawsuit contends the Open Meeting Law was further violated when some members said they were barred by security officers from entering the county commission chambers to witness and participate in the debate on the day of the vote.

Will either a new state law or a new filing in an ongoing lawsuit against the county and Gypsum Resources stop the improbable development on top of Blue Diamond Hill? That’s a question for the judges. But one thing about this story is absolutely certain: We’ve yet to read the final chapter.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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