LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Breaking news with a major win for the developer in the battle over Badlands. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday that development of the defunct golf course should have been allowed all along.
The City of Las Vegas approved the development years ago but a group of wealthy and high-powered Queensridge homeowners, including Jack Binion and noted gaming attorney Frank Schreck, fought it.
They challenged and won in district court, claiming the city had abused its discretion in granting the development application. That effectively halted any development of Badlands, and the property has since become a wasteland.
Developer Yohan Lowie owns the land and wanted to build luxury homes, trees, walking paths and more.
The Nevada Supreme Court confirmed Badlands is zoned for residential development and that the District Court was wrong in reviewing and overturning the city's original approval of Lowie's development plans.
The Badlands battle has cost taxpayers millions and there are still multiple ongoing lawsuits.
Thursday's Supreme Court ruling suggests all that money might have been saved.
ORIGINAL STORY: If developer Yohan Lowie had his way with the residentially-zoned land he owns, the wasteland that used to be the Badlands golf course would be full of luxury homes, trees, walking paths and more.
"We don't want anyone to be injured and we certainly don't want the liability for it but our hands are tied. And the city has tied our hands," said Attorney Elizabeth Ham in Sept., 2019.
As we reported last fall, the 250-acre property has become a wasteland, safety hazard and haven for crime since the city voted in November 2018 to impose strict rules on what developers could do with open space and closed golf courses.
"At this point, the city has essentially taken the land," said Ham.
The strict ordinance required developers to jump through hoops including comprehensive environmental and traffic studies.
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It was championed in 2018 by then-Ward 2 Councilman Steve Seroka and pitched as a way to protect surrounding neighbors.
In a Feb. 14, 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. Property values will not just be impacted in Queensridge, but throughout the community. I ask you to find that moral courage to stand up."
"He's absolutely a puppet! He's a puppet on a string," Yohan Lowie said in 2018, claiming Seroka was a puppet for a handful of wealthy Queensridge homeowners who didn't want Badlands developed.
Things became so contentious it led to a recall effort and Seroka eventually resigned.
Lowie's company filed a series of ongoing lawsuits against the City of Las Vegas that have cost taxpayers more than $2 million so far. The cases accuse the city of taking his property, denying his building permit applications and clawing back the zoning.
"Politics can be driven by money and in this case it very much was," said Former Ward 2 Councilman Bob Beers.
Beers said the city's decision to fight the residential zoning of Badlands was a bad decision with no basis in law. He echoed Lowie's concerns when we spoke to him last September.
"This open space is private property. It's open space because the potential other uses for it were stolen, were taken by the government from the owner."
In Wednesday's meeting, City Council members voted to repeal or undo that and replace the restrictive open space ordinance with one that's less burdensome on the developer but also adds provisions including some mandatory neighborhood meetings.
"I see this issue continuing on far into the future and I may not be alive at the time that it's totally resolved. I feel sorry for the fact that we haven't developed it," said Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
Councilwoman Michele Fiore said she's talked to more than 100 Queensridge residents and by far, most of them are ready to move on.
She played a voicemail from Queensridge resident and former U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, who said, "If the developer owns the property and if he has a legal right to develop, then we need to move forward on this because the status quo simply is not working."
Councilwoman Victoria Seaman sponsored the repeal and replace bills. We spoke to her shortly after her election when she said, "I ran to become elected to resolve the issues. When something's in litigation--and I can't talk about litigation--there's no end to it. And so my job was to get this resolved."
But some vocal Queensridge residents opposed to the repeal threatened even more legal action.
"The fact is, repealing the ordinance will open the door to multiple citizens and homeowners associations with property rights and property values that have been affected to also file lawsuits, thus requiring the city to defend more lawsuits with even more tax dollars," said Homeowner Paula Quagliana.
Even Former Councilman Bob Coffin came out to speak against the repeal during the public comment period.
"I lived this with you for five years and it's an ugly situation," Coffin said.
Coffin's involvement in the Badlands case has been controversial from the beginning.
As we reported in October 2018, then-Councilman Coffin lambasted Lowie in profanity laced emails and text messages as Lowie was coming before the council seeking permission to develop Badlands.
Coffin wrote that Lowie, "... Appears to be in the grip of several mental disorders."
In one text message, he calls him "scum" and asks if there's "intel" on him, writing "Dirt will be handy if I need to get rough."
In another text, he calls Lowie a "crazy Israeli."
Coffin defended his remarks then and continues to speak out against Lowie now.
"A very wealthy individual has blackjacked the council and the residents of the area," he told council members.
Kermit Waters, a lawyer for Lowie's company, says the city's repeal of the open space ordinance is like trying to un-rob a bank.
He added, "When you've been shot with 1,000 arrows and one gets pulled out, it feels better but doesn't solve the problem."
They don't believe the city will ever let Lowie build on his land.
They feel like the city owns the property at this point and they need to pay for it.
Court battles will continue.