Almost from the moment developer Jim Rhodes purchased the 2,000-acre mine in 2003, this has been a charged issue. Located adjacent to Red Rock Canyon, the 92-year-old active mine is one of the largest in the country. It was born of a mining claim once held by Peter Buol, the first mayor of Las Vegas, when the site was an hour’s haul from any concentrated population.
In fact, Blue Diamond Road was only a two-laner from Interstate 15 to the Red Rock turnoff until the fairly recent development of Mountain’s Edge, whose homes stretch almost all the way to the mine. Couple that with Summerlin homes abutting Red Rock Canyon’s northern side along Charleston Boulevard, and it’s understandable why conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts are jittery.
Red Rock Canyon in general, as well as its 195,819-acre National Conservation Area, have long served as a pressure-relief valve for Las Vegas residents, combining nature with the living memory of what the west once was. Working ranches, the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, shooting ranges, campsites, hiking and horseback riding trails, the fringy residential villages of Calico Basin and Blue Diamond—all make up the character of Red Rock Canyon, one that helps balance the glitz of the Strip.
But Red Rock is a pastiche of public and private land, and therein lies the rub. Commercial and residential development already exist, so halting additional growth will always be a challenge. However, keeping zoning intact should not be a challenge. Current mine zoning permits the development of one residence per 0.75-acre, or roughly 1,200 homes; Rhodes has requested a zoning change that would permit 2.5 homes per acre, equaling 5,025 homes.
Homeowners and concerned citizens should always carefully consider nonconforming zoning requests—slippery slope and all that. Given the choice between 1,200 zone-conforming homes versus an abandoned mine? I lean toward the homes. But 5,000 homes? That would turn Red Rock into a de facto urban park, and while there are urban nature-park success stories, 14,000 residents staring down from Blue Diamond Hill seems counterintuitive to the historic use and character of Red Rock Canyon.
Perhaps ideally, the mine would be swapped with a less controversial parcel, creating a buffer as Summerlin did at the north end. Either way, if (as some say) this is a case of The Man vs. The People, we must acknowledge that the cost of the mine’s environmental remediation will be enormous, no matter who pays it. Depending on our unpredictable economy and the outcome of various legal challenges from both sides, it’s possible the land will never be developed, instead continuing on as a gypsum mine. Note: Gypsum makes drywall, and drywall builds houses. Ironic, isn’t it?
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