The ramshackle Badlands Golf Course is more than just an expanse of ramshackle land that winds through the exclusive Queensridge development. It is also a huge financial pit for the city of Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, a district court judge added to the city’s misery by siding with a developer in a long-running dispute involving the property. It was an unsurprising decision in the face of the city’s pride and exposes the city’s taxpayers to millions of responsibilities. It’s also a warning to elected officials and bureaucrats who believe zoning codes give them virtually unlimited powers to dictate how private landowners use their property.
The case at issue involved EHB Cos., A development company that purchased the 35-acre parcel south of Alta between Hualapai and Rampart in 2015 for the purpose of building residential homes on the golf course, which had gone bankrupt. two years before. The plan angered several homeowners in the surrounding Queensridge community who felt it would devalue their residences. City officials initially agreed to the project, but affluent homeowners living nearby opposed the approval and won in the district court. Last year, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that decision.
But in 2017, a newly formed city council canceled the initial green light and began erecting barriers to the development of EHB, sparking more lawsuits. The council even passed a narrowly tailored ordinance essentially banning residential development on former golf courses. The city’s taxpayers have paid the price, paying more than $ 4 million in litigation.
In fact, the land was zoned for residential development from the start and the city had little legal basis to deny EHB plans. Former city councilor Bob Beers, who represented the region in question, likely lost his seat in 2017 for defending the developers. He repeatedly warned that city officials put taxpayers at risk by ignoring their obligations.
“After a thorough review of historical documents and the law,” Mr. Beers wrote in a 2019 Review-Journal editorial on the property, “the city attorney and the planning department agreed that the land was still zoned residential since the last action taken by city council Yes, that was 20 years ago and all council members at the time are no longer in office, but the zoning, once granted, does not change.
If the city had listened to Mr. Beers, it wouldn’t be in this mess. Instead, lawyers representing the city were reduced to claiming that EHB’s lawsuit seeking compensation for the city’s obstructionism was an attempt to “extort hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers.”
The courts were not buying this error. District Judge Timothy Williams on Tuesday ruled that EHB had a legitimate Fifth Amendment claim against the city for its overzealous attempt to restrict development on Badlands property. “I think in the broad facts and circumstances,” the judge said, “it’s pretty clear we’ve had a take.”
The next step in the saga could be a hearing to determine how affected the city’s taxpayers will be thanks to their misguided representatives. The city may have an appeal in mind, but it would be a colossal waste. At this point, city council needs to minimize the damage and do what it should have done years ago: see what EHB will agree to to make this whole fiasco go away.
And in the future, when city officials are tempted to exercise regulation against an unpopular landlord, they may remember the high costs associated with homeowners’ arbitrary and capricious denial of the economic use of their property.