Sun editorial:

Redevelopment regulations are a protection the community deserves


Christopher DeVargas

A look at the old Badlands Golf Course, which sits in a natural ravine, surrounded by the Queensridge master-planned community, Monday Feb 19, 2018.

The Las Vegas City Council did the right thing for homeowners last year by approving a new set of regulations for redevelopment of golf courses and other open areas.

Finally, property owners had strong protection from their park-like surroundings being paved over and covered with apartment complexes, high-density condominiums, office parks, shopping centers and the like. The new regulations were an elegant, effective and level-headed response by the city to the bitter dispute over the repurposing of the former Badlands golf course in the Queensridge master-planned community.

Now, however, one council member wants to tear up all of the city’s good work and strip property owners of a safeguard from radical redevelopment.

Councilwoman Victoria Seaman’s proposal to repeal the regulations is a terrible idea and should alarm any homeowner living near an open space. Seaman’s fellow council members should oppose her and keep the regulations firmly in place.

Seaman is claiming she still wants to protect homeowners by retaining some elements of the regulations — requirements to notify affected property owners about redevelopment projects and hold neighborhood meetings — but in reality she’s undercutting them by gutting crucial parts of the regulations.

As reported last week by the Sun’s Miranda Willson, Seaman’s hatchet job includes:

• Removing a framework for city decision-makers to review redevelopment proposals, which emphasized compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.

• Changing the definition of open space, in a way that Queensridge residents say would allow developers to avoid placing parks and other open spaces in their projects. 

• Weakening the ability of area property owners to give input. Seaman would merely require developers to share details about projects with neighborhood residents, while the current regulations specify the content and timing of community meetings.

“These (requirements) are all geared to what the developer would accept,” Queensridge resident Frank Schreck told Willson. “There’s no one that benefits from this except the developer.”

Schreck is right — Seaman’s proposal amounts to abandonment of a large group of homeowners within the city limits.

To understand the consequences of that, keep in mind there’s more at stake here than scenery or property values. If not mitigated, the effects of higher-density development include adding more cars to streets and thereby decreasing traffic safety; increasing stormwater runoff and bumping up the risk of flash flooding; further stretching the resources of police and fire departments, slowing their response times; and overcrowding schools.

Facing those concerns, homeowners need solid regulations.

Eliminating them also makes a mockery over the municipal planning process. Imagine, for example, if Summerlin’s density were suddenly doubled by avaricious developers without regard to the effects of the increase on municipal resources — if developments caused untenable commuting problems or forced tax increases to build pumping capacity for getting drinking water to the area, for instance.

Let’s be clear, higher density isn’t bad in and of itself. Indeed, low-density housing is a significant problem in the West. But simply handing land-use decisions over to developers poses risks, because in one city after another it has been shown that developers make unwise decisions for cities as a whole.

Removing the regulations also creates an opening for campaign contributors like developers to attempt to obtain undue influence over city government and the planning process. The potential for corruption on a meaningful scale exists here, so the City Council should remember that it’s meant to serve all members of the community. It shouldn’t sell out homeowners to benefit deep-pocketed developers.

As Las Vegas keeps growing, developers will find ways to build in areas in ways that adversely affect homeowners who invested in their homes based on a different promise and a different plan. Now, those homeowners will pay the price of relying on development agreements that city decision-makers can change on a whim, depending upon who is asking and how much money is involved.

At some point, Las Vegas has to grow up and understand that people invest in their homes with the belief that the city will protect their investments, not destroy them when a better deal comes along.

Regardless of whether city promises, developer commitments and homebuyers’ trust were based on formal agreements or something not quite as strong, the relationship between elected officials on the City Council and constituents who relied upon their decisions should be paramount.

We talk about people trusting government. What better example of the disconnect is there than when those broken promises hit people where they live?

To its discredit, the city planning commission approved Seaman’s proposed repeal, which sent it to the City Council for a vote expected to occur in the coming days or weeks.

The council’s May 2018 vote on the new regulations ended with 4-2 approval, but it has undergone significant changes since then. Seaman replaced former Councilman Steve Seroka, who championed the regulations before unexpectedly resigning over personal issues, and two other seats changed hands during last year’s elections. Both of those were held by council members who voted in support of the regulations. Meanwhile, the two “no” votes in 2018 — Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Councilwoman Michele Fiore — remain in place.

But regardless of where they stood on creating the regulations, the council should stand with property owners and reject Seaman’s repeal bid. The homebuyers who invested in the city deserve some sense of security and a strong tool to help shape redevelopment efforts in their neighborhoods.

A measured process — involving the community at large, the affected neighbors, city planners, developers and, yes, the City Council — is what we need.

It’s also what we have today. The Seaman effort basically hands the city over to developers more interested in short-term gain than long-term viability of the city. We don’t elect council members to sell out the community, we elect them to make prudent decisions that represent everyone’s interests and balance them carefully and wisely.