The pending closure and sale of Bonnie Springs has sparked a range of reactions from the community, from calls to relocate the ranch’s most popular attractions, to pleas for somebody somewhere to please start talking about how the county handles development and growth as a whole.
Save Red Rock wants to save Old Town. The group known for opposing a proposed 5,000-home Jim Rhodes development on Blue Diamond Hill isn’t planning on opposing the proposed 20-home development at Bonnie Springs Ranch, which is currently scheduled to close and be razed in March. However, the group is now hoping they can save one popular aspect of the ranch: Old Town, Nevada.
The replica 1880s mining town has been in operation since 1974 and features live reenactments of gunfights, old-west melodramas and hangings. It’s where the haunted house and “zombie turf” Halloween attraction known as “Bonnie Screams” is located and has been featured on the television show “Ghost Adventures.”
“We’d like for it to be relocated in its entirety,” says Save Red Rock President Heather Fisher. “We don’t want to see it bulldozed.”
Fisher says Save Red Rock met with the developers, Joel Laub & Associates, who were open to the idea of relocating the replica town but don’t want it on their property. Relocating Old Town may prove challenging but Fisher believes the community will be up for the challenge.
“People don’t want it to go away,” she added. “They’ve taken ownership of it.”
As for the proposed housing community, which calls for 20 high-end homes on two-acre lots behind a guarded gate, Save Red Rock remains neutral because the developer is working well within Clark County’s rural zoning guidelines. Putting it more bluntly, Fisher says, “Legally, we can’t do anything.”
Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, who until his election this past November was the lawyer for Save Red Rock, echoed some of that sentiment Thursday: “I know some people have said this is along the same lines of Rhodes, but it’s clearly a very different project.”
Jones says a more apt comparison for the proposed Bonnie Springs community would be the homes in Calico Basin. He added that the Bonnie Springs proposal seems like “the best option” out there for development.
He continued: “When it comes to what’s out there, I think there is a lot of nostalgia. I totally understand that, but I think anyone who has been out there recently knows it’s been dilapidated. The petting zoo isn’t what it used to be. We have to look at it for what it is and what it isn’t.”
A petition to have the ranch designated a historic landmark has gained some momentum online, garnering more than 37,000 signatures since last week. However, the effort may be futile because, as the Review-Journal reported, private property cannot be listed on the registry if the owner objects. Bonnie Springs Ranch is owned by the Levinson family through a trust. Nobody from the family has spoken publicly about the decision to sell the property.
Jones acknowledged there are other things the ranch could be, such as a state park.
“But I don’t know that there’s been that kind of interest from any government agencies,” he said, “and where would the resources for that be?”
Jones says it’s “still early” in the process for the Bonnie Springs development, which is set to go before the planning commission on Feb. 22. He says there will be plenty of time for people to express their concerns and that modifications can be made, if necessary.
Not without a fight
For some, those concerns go beyond the cultural kitschiness of the replica old town. When Bonnie Springs Ranch was listed on commercial real estate websites, the owners used the public lands surrounding the 63-acre property as a selling point. Now, public land advocates are hoping they can use that against the developers.
Listings for the Bonnie Springs Ranch website talked up the property as an “irreplaceable asset,” explaining that “a developer or investor cannot purchase 62.76 acres near or around Red Rock Canyon. All surrounding land of any scale is owned by the Bureau of Land Management or State of Nevada.”
Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director of the Center for Biological Diversity, says his organization is looking into the role the BLM has in the proposed project and whether the project should be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires environmental impact analyses and public involvement in projects using public lands.
Due to the government shutdown, the Center for Biological Diversity has been unable to reach anybody at the BLM for information.
Regardless, Donnelly said a formal letter to Clark County Commissioners is in the works. It will urge the county to delay approval if the developers haven’t had proper review from the BLM.
“The plans for the residential subdivision say nothing about access easements, or even whether they will need to run new utilities out to the site,” said Donnelly. “If any access for roads or utilities require crossing BLM land, they should be subject to NEPA.”
Developers for the Bonnie Springs Ranch project told the Current last week that BLM land was involved in the project. They indicated they would be revegetating a plot of BLM land currently being used as a parking lot for the ranch and using a different plot of BLM land for a new parking lot. However, access easements and utility issues were not discussed.
Donnelly says questioning the role of the BLM and the federal NEPA may be the best route for opponents to the proposed Bonnie Springs Ranch project because there do not appear to be issues at the county level.
“While there may be limited avenues for intervention on this issue, we are exploring every option,” he says. “We won’t let sprawl destroy Red Rock without a fight, even if others are backing down.”
Donnelly sees it as a social justice issue. He argues the development would hurt the neighboring Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which means it is hurting the public in favor of rich developers.
“Imagine taking in that iconic sweeping vista of the Red Rock escarpment, only to see a gated community of 20 McMansions with manicured lawns and a three-story hotel right at the base of those cliffs,” he said. “It would irreparably mar the scenic value of southern Nevada’s most scenic place.”
He continues: “The elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge is this: there must be limits to growth. Period. Growth without bounds is the ideology of a cancer cell, as Edward Abbey once said. And while there may be debate about where and how we need to limit growth, most southern Nevadans would agree that putting a bunch of McMansions for the super-wealthy right in the heart of our most famous and precious protected public lands is unacceptable.”