by Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, July 28, 2022
Like the Washington Generals, the attorneys representing the city of Las Vegas in the long-running Badlands controversy continued their losing ways last week. The result represents another assault on local taxpayers.
On Friday, District Court Judge Monica Trujillo ruled that city officials violated the Fifth Amendment’s taking clause by rejecting development plans for a 65-acre plot of land on the former golf course property. That means taxpayers are on the hook for making the landowner whole through “just compensation” — an amount that a court will determine at a future hearing.
The decision comes less than a year after another District Court judge came to a similar conclusion in a case involving 35 acres of the disputed parcel, later ordering the city pay $34.1 million in damages. Even ignoring inflation and the hot real estate market, that means Friday’s decision on the larger 65-acre parcel could cost taxpayers at least $63 million. Two other cases involving another 150 acres are pending, so it’s conceivable the tab could even triple from there.
The controversy is a textbook example of political and bureaucratic arrogance and the dangers of municipalities manipulating land use and zoning rules at the expense of property rights.
The problems began in 2013 when the Badlands golf course — which wound its way through the tony Queensridge development south of Alta between Rampart and Hualapai — ceased operation. Two years later, EHB Cos. bought the old course with the intention of building additional homes. That didn’t sit well with many of the existing residents, who sued in District Court after the city approved a version of the new project.
The residents won an initial victory that was later overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court. In the meantime, the dispute became a major issue in the municipal elections and, by 2017, the City Council had new members. The council rescinded approval of the Badlands development and began throwing up roadblocks to the EHB plan. The property owner sued.
Trouble is, the property had been zoned residential all along and the city had little legal basis to arbitrarily deny the developer the use of his land. Cooler heads on the council had warned of the potential financial consequences, yet such flares were ignored in the name of political expedience and kowtowing to the existing well-off residents. And the city has now lost big for a second time.
City officials say they can’t comment on pending litigation. Not surprising. What is there to say? In the coming years, however, when the tab comes due, Las Vegas taxpayers may not be so reticent.