Updated September 30, 2021 - 12:13 am
A Clark County District Court judge has agreed with the developer behind stalled housing plans on the defunct Badlands Golf Club course near Summerlin who claimed that interference by Las Vegas officials made land impossible to develop.
Judge Timothy Williams ruled on Tuesday in favor of developer EHB Cos., which alleged that city actions were tantamount to the city taking the company’s 35-acre parcel near the intersection of Hualapai Way and Alta Drive, court records show.
In recent years, the Las Vegas City Council has held or rejected plans to build homes on the closed golf course except for a 435-condominium project on 17 acres that has not moved forward. EHB has contended that lengthy delays and denials were unnecessary and aimed at preserving the private land’s use for the surrounding public.
Efforts to develop the golf course began after EHB purchased the land in 2015. During marathon hearings that followed, lawmakers expressed distaste for piecemeal development. Plans were also opposed by a coalition of residents in the upscale Queensridge neighborhood, which the course weaves through, citing fears of high density and diminishing property values.
“This has been a four-year battle that has taken all of our resources,” said Vickie DeHart, a principal with EHB, in a statement. “Fighting the government and politically connected people who threatened to take our land early on is no easy feat. It is wonderful to see justice prevail and the courts uphold our constitutional rights. A win for us is a win for all landowners.”
Three other cases pending
The decision Tuesday from the case brought forth in 2017 marks the second liability ruling in four so-called inverse condemnation cases filed by EHB. It is the first to go its way, although a ruling favorable to the city in December regarding a 65-acre parcel was later reopened and is under review, court records show.
Each case represents a different parcel of the former golf course and each case is in front of a different Clark County District Court judge. But combined the lawsuits account for the entire 250-acre plot and make the same central allegation: a “categorical taking.”
In essence, the developer is arguing that it deserves to be compensated because it claims the city’s purported intention to preserve private property for public use has wiped out the economic value of the land.
Attorney Kermitt Waters, one of the lawyers representing EHB in litigation, said Wednesday he believed it was only “a matter of time” before the city would be found liable in the remaining cases following Tuesday’s ruling.
Allegations of extortion
The stakes could be high depending on the outcome of the cases. EHB CEO Yohan Lowie previously estimated that the city would be liable for more than $1 billion in damages. In an August rebuttal to the lawsuit in question, city attorneys wrote that a finding against the city “would bring down the entire system of land use regulation in the State of Nevada.”
In court filings, city attorneys say the developer knew the land was designated for open space, recreation and parks when it purchased the land six years ago, although EHB insists that residential construction is permitted. City attorneys also noted that the council may exercise discretion on land-use matters, such as when they allowed the scaled-back condominium project.
“If the Developer admits that it has the right to proceed with construction of its 435-unit luxury housing project, its narrative of victimization in this and the other three lawsuits is exposed as a fraud and a cynical appeal to the courts to help it extort hundreds of millions of dollars from the taxpayers,” city attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Lowie, himself, has accused Queensridge residents of trying to extort him.
Damages to be determined
The city declined to comment Wednesday on the ruling in the case, citing its practice of not publicly addressing ongoing or pending litigation. A hearing on readiness for trial to establish damages is scheduled Thursday, according to Waters and court records.
It is one of at least a dozen lawsuits brought forward by EHB in recent years in the protracted and expensive legal battle it has waged against the city. The court fight has cost Las Vegas taxpayers more than $4 million in legal fees and staff expenses as of Sept. 23, according to city-provided figures.
“When I ran for office, I ran with a goal of bringing the City of Las Vegas and the developer together to avoid this eventual day in court,” said Las Vegas Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, whose district covers the golf course, in a statement.
Seaman had criticized her predecessor, ex-Councilman Steve Seroka, for representing a “few people in Queensridge” and not taxpayers or the city throughout the dispute. Seaman’s candidacy in 2019 was supported by a union and developer-linked company that contributed to a Seaman-backed effort to recall Seroka, who ultimately stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment.
“While the legal process will linger on, and costs to the taxpayers will continue to mount, my objective has always been to avoid this litigation and work for an amicable resolution,” Seaman said. “My position remains the same.”