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Clark County approves concept plan for development near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Posted on: February 28, 2017


Alex Honnold speaks to a crowd of Save Red Rock supporters and media outside the Clark County Government Center before the February 22 hearing in which the County Zoning Commission ruled in favor of the concept plan for the Blue Diamond Hill development. Regardless of the outcome, the event was awesome—tons of support for our side, said Chris Weidner, a climber and freelance writer who attended the hearing. [Photo] Heather WeidnerAlex Honnold speaks to a crowd of Save Red Rock supporters and media outside the Clark County Government Center before the February 22 hearing in which the County Zoning Commission ruled in favor of the concept plan for the Blue Diamond Hill development. "Regardless of the outcome, the event was awesome—tons of support for our side," said Chris Weidner, a climber and freelance writer who attended the hearing. [Photo] Heather Weidner

Alex Honnold was among the hundreds of people who filled the room and spilled out into the hallways February 22 at the Clark County Government Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, to speak out against a 5,026-home development on 2,010 acres that Gypsum Resources LLC wants to build near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is a world-class climbing destination featured in Alpinist 28.

In spite of the longstanding public opposition dating back to at least 2011, the County Zoning Commission approved Gypsum Resources' concept plan, 3-2.

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"There is some misunderstanding in which some people think the county has the ability to not allow any homes at all," said Clark County Public Information Officer Dan Kulin. "The landowner currently has the right to build homes on the property, just not at the higher density being proposed."

The current zoning allows one unit for every two acres.

Kulin stressed that the concept plan approval is just one step in the process and does not guarantee final approval of the development.

"There will be additional public hearings and additional votes," he said.

Still to come are a public facilities needs assessment, a specific plan, development agreement, and then approval of zoning changes.

Save Red Rock President Heather Fisher said that by approving the concept plan, the county is effectively agreeing to approve the zoning change for higher density. "It's implied," she said.

County Attorney Robert Warhola told commissioners at the meeting that the case will likely end up back in court.

Nevada Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (Democrat) was one of the first speakers after commissioners opened the hearing to public comment.

"I came here not only as a 40-year resident of Clark County...but I come here as the elected representative of 740,000 people who overwhelmingly oppose this development in Red Rock Canyon," she said.

About the plan

Blue Diamond Hill is the site of an active gypsum mine and processing facility, all on private land. But the area is surrounded by the scenic Red Rock park, and the Blue Diamond development would be in view from most vantage points within the park.

Opponents argue that the development would pose an additional threat to conservation because of its proximity to the park and that it would also spoil the natural experience currently enjoyed by park users, adding not just an eyesore but traffic congestion and pollution as well.

Honnold told Clark County Commissioners that there would be even more visual impact to Red Rock NCA than Gypsum Resources estimates.

"The developer took the impact assessment from the road level," he said, "but everyone who hikes and climbs sees it from quite a bit higher.... So it is a little bit disingenuous to claim that only 10 percent is visible when the majority of users in Red Rock will be seeing this entire development at all times."

Blue Diamond Hill, where the development is proposed, is pictured here looking south from atop The Great Red Book formation in the Calico Hills of Red Rock National Conservation Area. [Photo] Derek FranzBlue Diamond Hill, where the development is proposed, is pictured here looking south from atop The Great Red Book formation in the Calico Hills of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. [Photo] Derek Franz

Joanne Urioste, who authored the Red Rock profile in Alpinist 28 and who pioneered many of Red Rock's world-famous climbs with Jorge Urioste, said they feel very strongly that there should be a rural buffer zone around Red Rock NCA.

"We are sorry to see housing developments constructed closer and closer to Calico Basin," she said. "Once these communities are built close to wilderness areas, we see dirt bikes tear up the land of the supposed wilderness, and graffiti, which not only damages the pristine landscape but destroys ancient rock art that is a priceless heritage. We hope that no development is done on Blue Diamond Hill."

Gypsum Resources, which bought the property in 2002, contends that the development is on blighted land because of the mining that has taken place there since 1925.

"The development is part of the reclamation process for the mine," said Ron Krater, a planning consultant and spokesperson for Gypsum Resources, in the October 2016 Planning Commission hearing.

At that same meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Dan Shaw said, "It may not happen in my lifetime but at some point it will probably be developed."

The current concept plan is for 5,026 dwelling units on 2,010 acres, with a maximum average density of 2.5 units per acre. This is scaled back from the original 2011 proposal of 7,269 units over 3,466 acres, which the county approved with conditions that stipulated a lower density over less acreage and the transference of the development's primary access road off of State Route 159—which accesses the Red Rock park entrance—to Route 160, known as Blue Diamond Road. The 2011 approval also required the removal of the tourist commercial and industrial land uses from the plan.

On February 22 two commissioners said they are still not satisfied with the proposed density and would prefer to see it reduced even more.

The points of contention

Save Red Rock contends that the 2011 concept plan has expired. During the Zoning Commission hearing February 22, Warhola advised commissioners that it hasn't.

"Whatever you decide today, the 2011 concept plan is in place and the developer can move forward regardless," he said.

Last year, as a way to safeguard against the possibility of the plan expiring, Gypsum Resources submitted a new concept proposal that was essentially the same as the 2011 plan with the county conditions incorporated. With the legal conclusion that the 2011 plan was still valid, the Zoning Commission allowed Gypsum Resources to withdraw the 2016 plan and continue with the 2011 concept plan.

The most recent court hearing was February 9. The county filed a lawsuit asking a state judge to make a summary ruling on several points:
1.) Whether or not the 2011 was expired;
2.) Whether Save Red Rock was barred "from raising issues in the pending 2016 Concept Plan application that were previously decided on their merits over SRR's objections during the 2011 Concept Plan hearing before the Clark County Commission" (as worded in the lawsuit);
3.) If the county was wrong to reject 2016 concept plan;
4.) If two corners of developer-owned property qualify as "contiguous"—which is key for the concept plan to remain viable; according to the lawsuit, "SRR contends that two parcels of land which only have one common corner are not considered 'contiguous' and that the 2016 concept plan may not proceed as currently presented."
5.) The county "contends that a concept plan application may not be denied on the basis that it conflicts with the existing land use designation for a property because a concept plan is a preliminary step in the process for replacing the existing land use plan designation for the property."

"The judge did not rule on the arguments during the hearing on a request for summary judgment," Kulin said. "The judge did rule that the county was not tying to silence anyone."

Ultimately the commissioners listened to 128 speakers before they voted after five and a half hours of deliberation, pointing out that it was a matter of private property rights.

"This only sets parameters for future studies and submittals," Kulin emphasized. "It's not an approval of a development in and of itself and doesn't guarantee any approval of the proposal."

Urioste hopes that the proposal remains just that.

"In environmentally protective areas of our country, developers are often shut down by means of rural zoning, which makes development less profitable," she said. "I hope Clark County citizens are able to continue to push for a rural buffer zone around Red Rock."

Fisher said Save Red Rock has offered to buy the land from Gypsum Resources but to no avail. "The developer is not interested in selling," she said.

Save Red Rock's petition now has close to 50,000 signatures and Fisher said she is encouraged by the growing turnout of supporters, which was evident on February 22.

"Nobody is backing down and we will continue to fight this," she said.

More details from the meeting and about the plan can be found here.

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