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Grass-roots group opposes plan to bring 14,500 new residents to Red Rock Canyon

It’s an uphill battle: Residents living near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are rallying to prevent a proposed zoning change to the mountain that separates them from the rest of the Las Vegas Valley.

Gypsum Resources — which bought Blue Diamond Hill in 2002 for mining — is seeking to rezone it from Rural Open Land to high-density residential use. The rural designation allows one house per 2 acres. Gypsum Resources’ plan is to build 5,025 homes on the 2,010.6-acre site.

The issue was to have been heard by the Clark County Commission Nov. 2 at the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway. That’s been pushed to Dec. 7 after the county Planning Commission filed a motion for denial. Attorney for advocacy group Save Red Rock, Justin Jones, says the plan breaks with Title 30 of the county code, which contends that parcels of land must be contiguous. Jones says the two parcels touch only at a single corner, and further, the plan also deviates from Clark County’s comprehensive master plan.

“This means … bringing an estimated 14,500 residents — more than Boulder City — making it Southern Nevada’s third-largest community,” said Heather Fisher, president of Save Red Rock.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Boulder City’s population was 15,023.

Save Red Rock member Guy Pinjuv, a forest carbon scientist who grew up in Calico Basin, the area just east of Red Rock Canyon, lives in Blue Diamond, a village of about 300 people near the conservation area.

“Legally, I can’t believe how anyone could possibly do it (build homes) so close to a national conservation area,” he said. “It’s 2 miles (away) … the visual impact on the wilderness area goes without saying.”

Fisher, owner of Las Vegas Cyclery and Escape Adventures, has been leading bicycle tours through Red Rock Canyon for more than a decade. She said those living in Blue Diamond jokingly refer to the mountain in question as the “Great Barrier Reef” because it keeps out the bright lights of Las Vegas and cuts the canyon off from civilization.

That rural feeling will change, she said, if the development is approved.

“It will bring traffic and smog,” she said. “And Spring Mountain (Ranch State Park), they have summer theater, and you lay out a blanket (to watch the performance), and it’s really cool. It’s like being out in nature. But the (proposed development) will be right above it. There’s nothing you can do about 10,000 sets of headlights driving around.”

So far, Save Red Rock has gathered more than 5,000 signatures opposing the zoning change.

“Our slogan is ‘Build What You Bought,’ ” she said. “It’s zoned for rural. If you want to build residential, buy land that’s zoned for that.”

Gypsum Resources' proposed development site)

Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager said that her “fantasy for Gypsum Ridge” (aka Blue Diamond Hill) was that it could have been acquired by the county and set aside for hiking, cycling and outdoor use. But that didn’t happen.

Commissioners approved a zoning change and were able to get about 12 conditions agreed to when the matter initially came before them in 2011. But the Bureau of Land Management land swap that Gypsum Resources was pursuing fell through, and the time limit for the 2011 application ran out.

In 2013, Gypsum Resources’ trust manager, developer Jim Rhodes, sued both the county and the state over high-density restrictions and won.

“Landowners have rights. That doesn’t mean I like it,” said Brager, “but we have to follow the law.”

Brager said it was thought that any denial for a zoning change would have triggered another lawsuit, and commissioners were advised by then-district attorney Rob Warhola that fighting it would be difficult and costly, and they’d likely lose. A loss would have meant that the owner would be free to build as many as 15,000 homes, Brager said.

Gypsum Resources’ current plans include a self-contained village with small shops, a school, a firehouse and a police substation. It also promises a trail system. Its plans are to build behind the ridge, which, it stresses, would limit light pollution for Blue Diamond residents and utilize water-saving strategies.

The new development would be built in phases and accessed by a four-lane road that connects to state Route 160, about 1 mile east of the intersection of state Routes 159 and 160.

Gypsum Resources did not return calls requesting comment. However, it said in its proposal to the commission that its plan will “respond to this unique setting. The project hopes to set the standard for human communities and their relationships with the natural environment … and reflect the rural and rustic characteristics of the surroundings.”

For more on Save Red Rock, visit SaveRedRock.com.

Editor’s note: After this story went to press, in late October, the Clark County Planning Commission voted unanimously against the proposal, despite county staff recommending approval.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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