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Feb. 22, 2008

County OKs Willow Creek



A 9.1-acre site for a proposed hotel, casino and expanded clubhouse at Willow Creek golf course was rezoned to general commercial by Nye County commissioners in front of almost 200 people Wednesday.

The comments were about 13-5 in favor of the project. Proponents said the destination spa resort would generate jobs, create county revenue and preserve property values of owners around the golf course.

Opponents who voiced concerns about traffic in the neighboring residential area were given some consolation. The developers will have to return before the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission to present more detailed plans before the casino obtains a conditional use permit.

Advocates for both sides presented petitions. Antonio Caiati, AMI director of operations for the golf course, said he presented a petition with 187 signatures in support of their project.

Don Luttrell, a resident on Bellville Street, said he had a counter petition. Doug Shaw, presented a petition with 67 signatures on behalf of residents on Lake View Executive Golf Course.

James Veltman, principal partner in Studio VBM, said the golf course would be upgraded to its original condition.

"We do want to make it a viable business," Caiati said, adding he wants to see the golf course in better condition than it ever was.

The commissioners adopted a suggestion by the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission to extend the deed restriction requiring the property be maintained as a golf course another 30 years. That would extend it to 2043; the original deed restriction expires in 2013. The RPC voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project.

"We don't think the scare tactics of closing the golf course is going to hold much credence," Luttrell said. "Wouldn't the lenders have a say in the closing of the golf course?"

Luttrell said the property owners should have put the $7 million they borrowed since Aug. 16 into the golf course. He also brought up state law which specifies a gaming establishment shall be at least 500 feet from the property line of a developed residential district and 1,500 feet from the property line of a school.

But Dick Gray said if the project isn't approved, the golf course will close and 1,000 low-income section eight apartments would be built.

Commissioner Butch Borasky stepped in to advise the crowd: "There is a misconception that if that golf course goes away, that golf course is going to turn into apartment buildings. That's not zoned for that. That's zoned for open space and parks. The zoning does not even conform to multi-family housing in there. That would all have to go back in front of the RPC."

Nye County Commission Chairwoman Joni Eastley sought to limit discussion strictly to the rezoning, ruling out comments of a personal nature or regarding the intentions of the applicants.

Luttrell said the 20,000-square-foot hotel would be larger than the Pahrump Nugget or the Best Western, while the casino floor space would be bigger than the Mountain View Casino building.

"Essentially, Willow Creek wants to build a Pahrump Nugget in the middle of a residential neighborhood with schools and established residential homes adjacent to the property," McKendrick said.

McKendrick predicted it would take an immense number of gamblers and golfers to make up the $140,000 monthly revenue shortfall the owners claim at the course.

"How can there be so many profitable golf courses in southern Nevada without casinos?" McKendrick asked.

Opponent Kevin Hard was concerned over the safety of school children at nearby J.G. Johnson Elementary School and his own four children. He added the hotel and casino would be a negative fixture less than 50 yards from his back yard.

Opponents were outnumbered however by proponents, backed up by cheering members in the audience. Debbie Strickland and Paula Glidden stressed the need for jobs.

Ron Taylor, a resident on property adjoining the golf course for 15 years, said it would preserve his property values.

Bob Huffman said he's been living around the golf course for 33 years. He recalled when the first seven holes opened in 1977.

"When Preferred Equities sold the golf course, it started going downhill," Huffman said. "Up until October of this year, it had almost deteriorated to the point it was not a golf course ... It almost broke my heart."

Doug Shaw, a member of the board of directors for Lake View Executive Golf Course, said Lake View is bound by the same deed restriction as Willow Creek. The time extension should apply to Lake View, he said.

Kay Hendricks, a resident on Lake View course, said she was disappointed by developers, who she said stated the only improvement they would make to Lake View was to the clubhouse.

Neal Huff, a resident living on the 17th hole, said, "It would be a travesty not to approve their proposal. I think if you don't approve it, we're going to end up with a blighted area right in the middle of town. So many people that moved to town were told that (golf course) was a community benefit."

Caiati predicted they could start building the hotel and casino resort this summer if permits are approved. He said it would take 28 months to complete.

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