I-Team: Developer Reflects on Building near Red Rock Canyon

LAS VEGAS -- Strong emotions and angry words are expected at a hearing Wednesday regarding a development plan adjacent to Red Rock Canyon. Longtime developer Jim Rhodes wants to put homes, and a lot more, atop Blue Diamond Hill, which is just outside the Red Rock Conservation Area.

Opponents have fought the project for years, but one person who has not been heard from is Rhodes, who rarely grants interviews.

Rhodes isn't exactly thrilled to be characterized as the man who wants to destroy Red Rock Canyon. For one thing, the 2,400 acres he owns atop Blue Diamond Hill are hardly in unspoiled condition. For nearly a century, the land has been scraped, gutted, and gouged as part of a massive mining operation.

See the Blue Diamond Hill Presentation

Rhodes figures that a master planned community with parks, trails, and other amenities would be a major improvement over what today looks like the lunar surface.

"You get the best architects, best planners, and landscape architects. It's wonderful what you could do up here in a sustainable community," he said.

Rhodes has been reluctant to reveal details about his plans because he figured his opponents would find ways to use the information against him, but he's recently lifted the veil. He wants to build about 7,200 housing units on 1,700 acres, but says it would be much more than a housing subdivision.

His design team has mapped out a much more ambitious series of interlocking villages and a town center with commercial venues for work and play.

"(It is) something that is sustainable from an environmental standpoint, from a social standpoint, and from an economic standpoint," said Rhodes. "The town center would be employment base. There would be shopping and all types of different services, restaurants, Starbucks, Mail Boxes Etc."

See the Economic Impact Report

Economics could be a critical factor in what Clark County decides to do. Rhodes estimates his project could generate $8 billion worth of investment over 30 years, create thousands of jobs, and attract international interest.

One argument against the plan is that the local housing market is already bloated. Rhodes thinks the spectacular views from atop his hill would bring in a new class of investors who might not buy something down in the valley. But he insists the mansions that would perch on the rim would be joined by more affordable options.

"It shouldn't be just the elitist neighborhood -- just the rich only. It should be for everybody," he said.

An influx of the masses is one of the main fears of rural residents who do not want the city to move to their doorstep. Anything which is viewed as a potential threat to Red Rock Canyon understandably raises concerns among conservationists, who have opposed Rhodes' project every step of the way.

Rhodes and his team say potential problems can be minimized by careful design -- muted light fixtures to cut down on light pollution, for instance. As for spoiling the views for hikers or others, Rhodes says visitors to Red Rock would be unable to see almost anything on the hill, just as those on the hill can't see the canyon floor.

"We've done computer-generated view analysis and that reaffirmed our belief that the vast majority of the property can't be seen from public ways or from the Red Rock Loop. We've brought hundreds of people up here, and the people realize they can't see those places or roads," said Rhodes' planner Ron Krater. "This site has been chewed up for 86 years through strip mining. It's one reason we are up here today. If it was nature, it would be a much different conversation."

Rhodes spent $58 million to buy the land, and then spent millions more fighting through the courts for the right to develop it. He realizes that no argument or concession he can make will change the minds of his opponents, but, he notes, stopping the development could mean his only option would be to resume to the already-approved use for the land -- mining for gypsum.

"There's a lot of gypsum up here, and there's probably more money in mining gypsum than there is in building houses," he said.

Previous attempts by the county to severely limit the development of Blue Diamond Hill were overturned in federal court, so Wednesday's meeting could finally see Rhodes get the green light for the project, though opponents are expected to be out in force at the commission meeting.

We will be posting additional excerpts from the Rhodes interview, along with related materials, on our website.


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