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The county angles for a deal to move Rhodes’ Red Rock home-building plan

<p>A view from the Rhodes property on Blue Diamond Hill. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES</p>

A view from the Rhodes property on Blue Diamond Hill. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a story CityLife has been following for some time, the saga of one man’s attempt to plant a ton of residential development within befouling distance of Red Rock:

IS OUR LONG REGIONAL nightmare finally over?

Maybe not, but it’s a start. Last week, the Clark County Commission passed a resolution that endorses a potential swap of unspecified federal land for developer Jim Rhodes’ 2,600 acres on Blue Diamond Hill, surrounded on three sides by the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Rhodes has been battling with conservationists and residents of the nearby Blue Diamond village for a decade to build a high-density community on the hill, which he purchased for a reported $50 million in 2003.

Rhodes’ representatives, conservationists and the Clark County Commission, which has swung between support of and opposition to his proposal for years, were singing kumbaya over the resolution, which asks the federal Bureau of Land Management to investigate the potential for a land swap.

“This is obviously the beginning of a process,” cautioned Commissioner Susan Brager, who represents the area in dispute. “Hopefully, the BLM will hear us loudly and clearly.”

Chris Kaempfer, attorney for the developer, said that to his knowledge a specific piece of land for the swap has not been identified.

Such a swap — assuming the unspecified land Rhodes would acquire doesn’t threaten any important natural resources — would solve several problems. Rhodes would get land that presumably isn’t burdened with zoning restrictions and bordered by contentious residents; the county would avoid more controversy; and Blue Diamond wouldn’t have to brace for the thousands of new residents that Rhodes’ development would bring to the area.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who has consistently supported the conservationists’ position over the years, was the lone “no” vote on the resolution. She said Rhodes knew of state and local restrictions that would block high-density development when he purchased the land.

Providing more federal land for a swap rewards “bad behavior,” Giunchigliani said.

Rhodes has sued to overturn state and county restrictions that would prevent high-density development on the site; the issue is now before the Nevada Supreme Court. A court loss for Rhodes could make the issue moot.

Several conservationists from the Nature Conservancy spoke for the resolution. Tom Warden, chairman of the board of trustees of the Nevada arm of the conservation group, said the despite extensive mining from a gypsum operation on the hill, the area has important biological resources that should be protected.

“Blue Diamond Hill would be a wonderful opportunity for preservation of species habitat,” Warden said. Any swap would have to go through a potentially lengthy public process with the BLM, Bob Ross, agency field office manager, said after the hearing. LAUNCE RAKE