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Battle over Badlands reaches boiling point

Taxpayers on hook amid infighting, conflicts
Badlands
Posted at 4:53 PM, Oct 21, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The bad feelings over developing the Badlands golf course have reached the boiling point.

In addition to the millions of dollars that taxpayers are spending in a drawn-out legal fight, our elected officials are accusing each other of double-speak and dirty dealings.

The weight of Ward 2 is heavy for City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman.

"The taxpayer dollars are on the line here!" Seaman said. "This is not a Ward 2 problem. This is a city problem."

A city whose leaders continue fighting what has frequently been a losing battle over building homes on the defunct Badlands golf course on Alta Drive and Rampart Boulevard.

"Nobody's winning in this," said Seaman. "The taxpayers aren't winning. The developer's not winning. He is paying taxes on his land."

Developer Yohan Lowie is paying more than a million dollars a year in property taxes for the land he can't use. Land a judge ruled the city essentially seized by blocking development plans.

The city has voted to appeal that ruling.

"It's a crapshoot," said Seaman. "It's in the courts."

If the ruling is upheld, Councilwoman Seaman says it could have a devastating impact.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars. And I don't think people understand that."

She wants to settle. In her mind, that’s the only way to stop the bleeding of taxpayer dollars.

Former Ward 2 Councilman Bob Beers was ready to wave the white flag years ago.

"It wasn't until after I left that they started farming all the work out to outside firms, which is a sign that the city's pretty sure they're going to lose the case," Beers said in a 2019 13 Investigates report.

Beers said the city's decision to fight the residential zoning of Badlands was a bad one with no basis in law. A battle backed by a handful of wealthy Queensridge homeowners who didn't want development on the shuttered golf course behind their homes.

"Politics can be driven by money, and in this case it very much was," said Beers.

A spreadsheet provided by the city shows taxpayers have spent more than $4 million in legal fees so far.

Seaman says that's an understatement, "It could be upwards of $10 million."

What's the justification for that?

"There is none," Seaman answered. "We need to sit down with the developer, and we need to settle this."

But things have grown so complicated, she finds herself caught in contradictions.

In the Oct. 6 City Council meeting, Seaman voted to keep the legal fight alive, saying, "I have been told the city has reached out to the developer and the developer has expressed no interest in settling this matter out of court."

After that, she called Lowie herself to see if he was willing to discuss a settlement.

"And I was very encouraged that he was."

Did someone give Seaman bad information from the city manager's office?

"I'm just not sure if the right information was something that was presented to me at the time," she responded.

Seaman has been at odds with fellow council members since she took office two years ago.

13 Investigates has been reporting on this even longer.

"It is so hard to believe what's happening here," said Yohan Lowie in a 2018 report.

There were questions of fairness after City Councilman Bob Coffin called the developer "Scum" and a "Crazy Israeli" in profanity-laced email and text messages.

Lowie and his lawyers claimed then-Councilmembers Coffin and Steve Seroka were throwing up roadblocks -- acting on behalf of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Queensridge.

In a February 2017 hearing before the city Planning Commission, Seroka said, "Over my dead body will I allow a project that will set a precedent that will ripple across the community that those property values do not just be impacted in Queensridge, but throughout the community. I ask you to find that moral courage to stand up!"

Seroka got tangled up in a moral issue of his own … a sexual harassment scandal involving one of his aides.

He resigned in March of 2019.

Enter Victoria Seaman, via special election. She came out of the gate trying to put Badlands to bed.

"We need the votes in order to negotiate a settlement. And unfortunately, we have to bring everybody to the table, and those council members are going to be accountable to the taxpayers."

Those councilmen are Stavros Anthony and Cedric Crear.

Crear cited pending litigation and declined to talk about why they keep the Badlands battle alive.

Voting records obtained by 13 Investigates show both have voted to deny every one of Lowie's land use applications, despite consistent recommendations for approval from the planning commission and city staff.

"I do think it was political. I do think that there's been bad blood between the developer and former council members, and I think it's time that we do our job!" said Seaman.

In the case of Councilman Crear, there’s been a question as to which job takes priority.

Crear is a former marketing director for Station Casinos. He also lists them as a client for his personal marketing business.

Station CEO Frank Fertitta has a home backing up to Badlands and has been a staunch opponent of any new development there.

In September 2004, campaign finance reports revealed almost half the contributions to Crear's state senate campaign came from Station Casinos, its affiliates and its executives.

At the time, Crear told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, "The Fertittas have been my friends for over 30 years. They wanted to support my campaign and I love them for it."

13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asked: "Have any of the council members said, 'Hey, Councilman Crear, maybe you shouldn't be voting on this? You need to disclose that.'"

"I haven't had any of those conversations with Councilman Crear," Seaman said.

The potential conflict of interest was raised to the city attorney a few years ago, but there has been no action.

13 Investigates tried to ask Councilman Crear about it but he wouldn't talk, again citing the pending litigation.

So, we took the facts to Dr. Abigail Aguilar, who teaches professional ethics at UNLV.

In a statement, she wrote:

"This is a case of a conflict of interest that is so obvious, my undergraduate students would think I was kidding were I to use it as an example in class of an actual case. A politician who engages in such behavior -- not disclosing a very close connection to an interested party, let alone not recusing oneself from any voting on it -- should not be in any public office. It calls into question all other votes a politician like this has taken, as well as all other actions (such as fundraising), and is a violation of public trust that is essential for government to function well."

What responsibility does Seaman believe other elected officials have when it comes to pointing out a conflict of interest?

"Well, the thing that's my responsibility is I have urged the council members in our briefings, in meetings we've had over Badlands, that they need to think about the consequences if we don't try to settle this. And I have done it over and over again. And it falls on deaf ears."

Seaman says she's enlisted help from the city manager and city attorney to try to bring everyone together.

Seaman said she feels like it was politically motivated from the get-go. So, does she feel like that's still going on?

"Those are questions you'd have to ask the other council members," said Seaman.

But she obviously doesn't seem to understand why they're voting against allowing Lowie to develop his land and haven't participated in settlement discussions. Is that fair to say?

"It's fair to say," said Seaman.

Since the other council members won't say, Seaman reiterates, "I do believe that we need to help them to understand that it's time to come together and get a resolution because everybody's losing."

Everybody except the lawyers.

"True," Seaman acknowledged.

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