Editorial: Time has come for city, developer to settle the Badlands dispute

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(Las Vegas Review-Journal) – The only sure winners in the ongoing legal fight between the city of Las Vegas and the owner of the defunct Badlands golf course are the lawyers.

Last week, the Review-Journal’s Shea Johnson reported that the city’s legal fees have topped $1.5 million. That amount will likely increase. The City Council has allocated around $1 million to cover the cost of future legal representation. In addition, the city has spent almost $450,000 in staff time working on redevelopment proposals involving the now-shuttered golf course.

The dispute started after developer Yohan Lowie and his company EHB Cos. bought the property with an eye toward redevelopment. In the 1990s, the City Council approved residential zoning for the golf course. Property owners in the wealthy Queensridge neighborhood that surrounds the course oppose new building and have fought Mr. Lowie’s plans for years.

Last month, the latest incarnation of the City Council voted to repeal the open space ordinance that it passed in 2018. It had imposed unduly strict rules on property owners who sought to develop open spaces, including — not coincidentally — golf courses. Had it remained in place, it would have forced developers to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops before even submitting an application.

While this political back-and-forth played out, Mr. Lowie and his opponents have been trading lawsuits. Mr. Lowie has threatened to file at least two more lawsuits soon, as well. What should concern local taxpayers is the possibility that the city has opened itself up to a takings claim under the Fifth Amendment. And a 2019 Supreme Court ruling on property rights makes it much easier for landowners such as Mr. Lowie to gain relief.

That’s why the City Council should continue to take proactive steps to reach a settlement. In October, the council voted to join with EHB in appealing a lower court ruling that the company couldn’t build 435 condos approved by the city. The city conditioned its legal action on restarting settlement talks with EHB.

Mr. Lohan, however, apparently remains intent on litigation. “We don’t trust the city one bit,” he said. His skepticism is understandable. But further court action is in nobody’s best interest.

A settlement reached sooner rather than after a decade or more of lawsuits and appeals would benefit both parties. EHB would potentially receive a financial settlement and the ability to move forward. The city would limit taxpayer liability. Cooler heads from both sides need to get together and hash out a deal.

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Chuck Muth

Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government grassroots advocacy organization.  His views are his own. 

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