Opposition Builds Against North Las Vegas Casino - Thursday 4th of May 2006

by Brian Wargo

by Our Partners at the Las Vegas Sun

A group of North Las Vegas residents hopes that a casino proposed for a 16,000-home master-planned community will crap out.

Opposition is mounting to the casino planned at the northwest corner of the Las Vegas Beltway and Losee Road as part of a 2,675-acre development by the Olympia Group.

Organizers have submitted petitions to the city with the names of about 2,000 residents opposed to the casino. Council members also have received numerous letters, e-mails and phone calls from residents.

The North Las Vegas Council on Wednesday will consider a development agreement that, if approved, would enable Olympia to petition the City Council in the future to build a resort casino.

In its petition drive, residents warned that a casino could create traffic congestion, increase drunken driving, harm their quality of life and lower property values. Allowing it, opponents say, will open the door to other casinos along the beltway.

Petition-drive organizer Mike Mathis, a 28-year-old construction safety director, said recent Strip-area beatings highlight casinos' potential downside.

"You are going to see young drivers in the neighborhoods and partying all night," Mathis said. "I am not against casinos. I have lived here my whole life. I just don't want them in my neighborhood."

Station Casinos already plans to construct Aliante Station, about 3 1/2 miles from the proposed Olympia casino at the northeast corner of the beltway and Aliante Parkway. Station has partnered with the developer of Aliante, the American Nevada Company, which is owned by the Greenspun family, owners of the Las Vegas Sun.

"I think people feel we are getting too many casinos," said North Las Vegas resident Cherlynn Thomas, who lives about a mile from the master-planned community. "We don't want to be the Strip."

Although he has no proof, Olympia partner Guy Inzalaco suspects that gaming interests, not eager to see new competition, may be behind the opposition. A Station official said the company has not played a role in the petition drive.

Mathis, who said he is not working on behalf of any casinos, said he became involved when someone came to his door with a petition, and he agreed to help with the campaign.

"Everyone who signed that petition is a resident (who) doesn't want gaming in their neighborhood," he said.

Inzalaco, who said his group hopes to win over residents when it gets a chance to explain its plan, noted that the development agreement does not guarantee a casino, only the right to petition for one. Olympia still would have to seek state authorization before any final city vote.

Some council members already have expressed concerns about approving a casino, given the amount of casino-zoned property already in the community. The nearest gaming district is at Lamb Boulevard and Centennial Parkway. There also are gaming districts at Centennial Parkway and the Las Vegas Beltway and Ann Road and Interstate 15.

"I will be hard-pressed to allow more gaming," Councilman Robert Eliason said. "And I still have issues with the density."

Olympia paid a record $638 million for the 2,675 acres of federal land in an auction last November. In addition to 16,040 homes, Olympia proposes 28 acres of neighborhood commercial development and 113 acres of regional commercial development, including the resort casino. About 118 acres would offer a mix of commercial and residential uses.

Beyond opposing the proposed casino, some civic leaders also have questioned its density of six homes per acre - nearly double the density of Aliante's planned 6,500 homes on 1,905 acres.

"The flagship was Aliante and I want to see an upgrade," North Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Angelo Carvalho said. "I don't think it is an upgrade. They are bringing in high density."

City officials estimate that 16,000 housing units would increase North Las Vegas' population by 40,000 to 50,000 people. Some residents worry that North Las Vegas lacks the roads to handle the resulting higher traffic volume.

Planning Commissioner Dean Leavitt said he would like to see Olympia scale back its project by at least 2,000 homes.

Some residents such as Steve Lauber, a member of a strategic planning committee, said North Las Vegas does not need another massive master-planned community without having jobs to go with it. A focus of the development, he said, should be to create business parks so residents can work close to where they live.

"If we are going to be a major city, it is time we start acting like one and not a bedroom community of Las Vegas," Lauber said.

Under the development agreement, Olympia would be required to donate land for a fire station, five elementary schools and a middle school, and for 130 acres of parks and trails.

The company also would have to build and partially equip a fire station and to construct a police command station and library for the development, which will be adjacent to a 300-acre conservation area set aside by the Bureau of Land Management.

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