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Opponents Vow To Continue Fight After Homes OK'd Near Red Rock

<p>Some fear the approval of residential development on Blue Diamond Hill could start a land rush in the area near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.</p>
Chris Smith/Nevada Public Radio

Some fear the approval of residential development on Blue Diamond Hill could start a land rush in the area near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

A controversial plan to build homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is moving ahead, albeit in slimmed-down form.

Over nearly 20 years of debate, as many as 3,000 homes have been proposed for Blue Diamond Hill, currently home to a gypsum mine.

At its Aug. 4 meeting, a unanimous Clark County Commission approved the construction of 280 luxury homes on 563 acres in the far west Las Vegas Valley. Unlike earlier incarnations, the new plan complies with rural zoning standards and does not seek to increase density.

A representative of the developer, Gypsum Resources,  told the Review-Journal the residential project is the “first phase of development,” with amenities such as a golf course under consideration.

The developer declined to be interviewed by KNPR News. So did Clark County commissioners, who were advised by the district attorney's office against speaking publicly about the matter because of ongoing litigation connected to an earlier proposal to build homes in the area.

Opponents vow to continue to fight the project, which many fear would bring sprawl to one of the most scenic — and heavily visited — parts of the Las Vegas Valley.

“Red Rock Canyon currently has so many people going to it that we can't keep up with the amount of recreation that's going on there,” said Valarie Kuschel, communications director of the Save Red Rock advocacy group. “Instead of having this land built for homes, if we can use it to build more trailheads, to build bike paths, that would be so much better for our community.”

Kuschel told State of Nevada that the earlier litigation prevented them from lobbying commissioners before they voted on the plan.

“At the county commission meeting, we felt that our voice wasn't heard as much as it should have been,” she said.

Along with aesthetics, the project could impact public safety, warned the chief of the volunteer Blue Diamond Fire Department.

Chief Kevin McGinn told the county commission that his department’s truck struggles to climb Blue Diamond Hill and that additional resources are far away in metro Las Vegas.

“Do these people know if they're buying a house that their closest significant chance of putting out fires or helping their loved ones in a medical call is a long ways away?” he said. “I don't know what their plan is, but I know it didn't involve looking at how to get a fire truck up there, a paramedic up there.”

Any development would also face the perennial Las Vegas challenge of water.

"Blue Diamond Hill and the Blue Diamond village are on their own water system; it's a well system," said Michelle St. Angelo, chairwoman of the Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards environmental group. "It's serviced by the aquifer that gets fed by the Spring Mountains, and so that system obviously has suffered through the drought"

St. Angelo said it's unclear how any planned housing development would get its water because of limits on the Blue Diamond system and the challenges of connecting to the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which would require construction across sensitive Red Rock Canyon land.

"Water and sewage (systems) are something that currently doesn't exist in the area that we're talking about developing," she said.

Longtime Las Vegas architect Robert Fielden, an advocate for sustainable development and former Blue Diamond property owner, said he was concerned as much by the message the approval sends than by the scope of the proposed project itself.

“Once you have precedent, then you're able to move and, and grow from that precedent and expand,” he said. “It's far more difficult o block any additional development.”

He also said any decision about development near Red Rock Canyon will show the world what priorities are in the Las Vegas Valley.

“This far more than a land-use issue,” he said. “I think this is really a community issue in the sense of what do we want ultimately, our community to be? If we want it to be built out to the extremes of the valley, then that's a decision the community has to make.”

Robert Fielden, owner, RAFI Architecture Design; Steve Sebelius, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Michelle St. Angelo, chairwoman, Cottonwood Springs Water Stewards; Valarie Kuschel, communications director, Save Red Rock

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.