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In this issue of Desert Companion, science writer Alec Pridgeon takes a sweeping historical look at Southern Nevada’s many precious Indigenous rock writing sites, with an eye toward the threat posed to them by increased outdoor recreation, as well as vandalism. Also: Six local thought leaders in healthcare share what they’d do to improve healthcare if they were in charge; and 2023 Writer in Residence Meg Bernhard kicks off her six-part series of reported essays on people and climate change.

Density and Distance in the City's Favorite Recreation Area

Illustration: Ryan Vellinga
Photo: Unsplash

Save Red Rock keeps an eye on Clark County's development code

When Clark County last did a comprehensive review of its planning standards near Red Rock Canyon, it was 2003. Red Rock Casino Resort, Downtown Summerlin, and many of the neighborhoods in the foothills around there didn’t exist, let alone the homes that have crept up to the border of the conservation area itself. 

Now, as the county reviews and rewrites its Master Plan and Development Code — an effort it’s named Transform Clark County — conservationists are remaining vigilant to ensure rural protections, wildlife corridors, and housing density remain the same. 

“There is a need to update it, but certainly not to gut it,” says Pauline van Betten of Save Red Rock. “When a person comes to Red Rock, there is a different feeling (than in the city). You don’t have high-density urban development adjacent to the park. You have a buffer zone. We want to make sure that these things aren’t removed. We do know that people like to exploit beautiful areas because they’re beautiful. There needs to be absolute protections. When you buy land, you understand this is what the rules are.” 

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Since it launched in 2020, Transform Clark County has been a transparent process. The master plan was adopted in December 2021, but the county continues to solicit public input for the development code update. 

“We received a lot of feedback, but nothing on the Red Rock Overlay because it didn’t really change,” says Nancy Amundsen, the county’s director of comprehensive planning. “The limitations on density in the Red Rock Overlay are still there. We are not changing that. We are just trying to create consistency in the (development) code so that anybody who picks it up can understand what they can do with their piece of property.”

While restrictions on density, design standards, preservation of the viewshed, limits on commercial development, and other protections remain in the Red Rock Overlay, the issue of water conservation is being added. The county’s recent adoption of a rule prohibiting water features and pools larger than 600 square feet will apply. 

“Such a short time ago, we were kind of oblivious that we were living in the desert,” van Betten says. “Water conservation wasn’t on the radar. Part of this process (of reviewing the county’s plan) is to see what else we might be missing. We want to be preparing for the future and writing a document that can stand the test of time.” 

Pockets of private land exist throughout the overlay, and the Bureau of Land Management owns property outside the conservation area that it could potentially dispose of in the future. If these areas were developed, coupled with high-density development continuing along the edge of the conservation area, it could diminish Red Rock’s rural feel, van Betten fears.

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Two notable projects are at Bonnie Springs Ranch, where 16 luxury homes are being built on the 65-acre parcel, and atop Blue Diamond Hill, where gypsum mine owner and developer Jim Rhodes recently obtained a conditional use permit to build 429 homes on 671 acres in the first phase of the project that has been entangled in lawsuits and controversy for years.

For landowners, “the Master Plan provides a clear vision for making our community more livable and sustainable,” said Commissioner Justin Jones, whose district includes Red Rock, in a statement. ✦