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LV council allows Billy Walters to close golf course, build houses for $millions
This city is so corrupt...Walters paid out $millions to get this sweet deal!
CHANGE OF PLAN: Council OKs deal on land
City lets developer turn golf course into housing
By DAVID McGRATH SCHWARTZ
Darin Swartzlander, plant operations and maintenance supervisor, talks about the development of the land near the Water Pollution Control Facility in his nine years of working there.
Photo by Ronda Churchill.
A golf course will be turned into a 1,200-home development after the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday lifted a deed restriction on the land for $7.2 million.
With houses to be built as close as 20 feet from the city's sewage treatment plant, Las Vegas will have to spend an estimated $5 million to control odors, according to an engineering report.
Casting the lone vote against lifting the restrictions on the Royal Links Golf Club land, Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian questioned whether "we would be leaving money on the table for the taxpayers."
By lifting the deed restriction to allow residential development, the land could be worth $28.7 million more than its current value, according to one appraisal.
The city sold developer Bill Walters the 161 acres in 1999 with the restriction that it be kept as a golf course. It was to serve as a buffer between the sewage treatment plant and residences.
But recently the county has approved development that would be flush up against the southern and eastern boundaries of the city's Water Pollution Control Facility. Crews have begun grading the land for the projects.
The treatment plant, which handles most of Las Vegans' discharge down toilets and drains, is in unincorporated Clark County, outside the city.
County commissioners approved the homes on the south and east sides of the plant, and in September changed the zoning for the Royal Links Golf Club to allow residential development.
Lifting the deed restriction was the final big hurdle to be cleared before homes can be built on the course, which borders the northern and eastern boundaries of the plant.
Because of the restriction, Walters paid $894,000 for the land, less than its market value.
The city settled on $7.2 million in compensation by figuring the difference between the 1999 land value and the price Walters paid, then adding 6 percent per year, the amount the city could have made if it had invested the amount of money the land was originally appraised at.
Councilman Steve Wolfson asked, "Is that a proper way to determine the value?"
Scott Adams, director of business development, said that the lifting of a deed restriction was rare and that little precedent existed.
Wolfson said selling the land and lifting the deed restriction was better than facing an uncertain future for the land and getting no money.
Mayor Oscar Goodman acknowledged the city could block Walters from building homes there. But, Goodman said, "The city is not in the position of being an extorter."
The city requested two appraisals of the land last month. One appraisal found lifting the deed restriction increased the value of the land by $24.15 million. The other appraisal found lifting the deed restriction increased the value by $28.7 million.
Walters has made potentially lucrative deals with local governments before.
In 2002, Walters reached a lease agreement with the county to build two golf courses and a park on 300 acres. Later, commissioners rezoned 60 acres of the land to allow a more lucrative commercial use.
Last year, Henderson swapped vacant property zoned for residential development for Walters' failing Wildhorse Golf Club.
On Wednesday, Walters stood in front of the council flanked by former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, who represented Walters.
Bryan dismissed the idea that Walters would see a windfall.
Walters has rights to buy water at a cheaper price from the city, and now that water could be resold at a higher rate, Bryan said. Also, the water used by the golf course could be returned to Lake Mead for water credits.
"Mr. Walters has all the risk," Bryan said. With construction costs rising, "it's fair to say in the last few months ... the scope of the risk has gone up," Bryan told the council.
A decision on lifting of the deed restriction has been delayed since July, when discrepancies were found between versions of a staff report on the proposal.
An edited version of the report distributed to the City Council painted Walters' development in a more positive light.
The Metropolitan Police Department led an investigation into whether any wrongdoing occurred.
The department has not released its report on the investigation. But Goodman said he was told no criminal charges would be filed.
Walters applauded the City Council's decision.
"It's easy to form an opinion about an area of town," he said of the land near the plant. "People are happy, proud to be there."
The city has spent $35 million on odor controls at the plant. But houses now are between a quarter-mile and a mile from the sewage treatment plant, according to the engineering report requested by the city.
The $5 million in improvements that Walters' development would need would be for a wall and other odor-control measures. When the plant is expanded, as the city expects, the city would have another $23 million in costs.