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Understanding the Growth Ordinance

This was the proverbial second bite at the apple for Boulder City when it comes to the possibility of selling off a large tract of land adjacent to Boulder Creek Golf Club in order to pay for a proposed replacement for the aged and broken city-owned pool.

The same developer — Toll Brothers — that put forth a proposal almost two years ago that was later deemed too dense, presented the City Council with three possible lower density options last week. The council voted to explore an option that calls for 122 single family homes to be constructed on the land known as Tract 350.

The council, in December of 2021, voted to approve a development with 185 homes but, about six months later, after meeting with residents, the developer came back with a revised proposal for 156 houses at an amount that came to more than $16,000 less per acre. The council voted against that plan 3-2.

Last week, Sherri Jorgensen, who was one of the council members who voted to deny the last plan, spoke to the representative of Toll Brothers.

“Thank you for coming back,” she said. “I know it’s a different market. I appreciate you recognizing that in Boulder City, we hardly get to grow. So, when we do get to grow, we really care about how we do it.”

That quip on how often Boulder City grows in terms of residential development references a unique quality to BC code that may not be fully understood by many residents: The Growth Ordinance.

Originally passed almost 45 years ago when the city population number was well under 10,000, the ordinance limited new residential construction in the city to no more than 120 units per year while also limiting how many of those homes could be built by a single developer.

Passed largely as a reaction to the city’s population nearly doubling in the previous 10 years, the ordinance has largely succeeded in ensuring that Boulder City remains a small town. While the population between the 1980 and 1990 censuses continued to increase at a clip equivalent to about 30%, for the past 20 years, the population has remained remarkably steady at about 15,000 people. This while the population in Clark County has increased from 1.4 million to 2.3 million in the same time period, an increase of a whopping 60%.

To put it into perspective, if Boulder City had grown at the same rate as the county of which it is a part, the population today would be closer to 24,000 souls, which would make it substantially bigger than Mesquite.

The strategy was shepherded by Bob Ferraro, who served on the Boulder City Council for 31 years which included six separate stints as mayor. It was not a universal hit when passed. In an article published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2007 following his final City Council meeting, he said that it had passed “much to the disappointment of some of my friends.”

“It was very contentious,” he said. “One friend in particular never forgave me up until the day he passed away.”

The Growth Ordinance, which is part of Title 11 of the Boulder City Code, was intended when passed to limit growth to less than 3% per year. It does this by limiting residential growth in several ways.

First, the limit of 120 new residential units in any year. Next, hotel development is limited to no more than 35 rooms per year. Residential developers are also limited to no more than half of the total allotment in any two-year period so, no more than 30 homes per year for any single developer.

Finally, as a kind of insurance policy, per the city charter, the city is not allowed to sell more than one acre of land without putting it on the ballot.

That last one is key. Even with the strict limits, most years the total allotment is not met. The one-acre sale limit means that most years there is little private land within the city that can be developed.

Beyond that, in the 1990s, the city purchased 200 square miles of land known as the Eldorado Valley. Some of that has been used for solar energy development, but the move ensured that another city could not buy the land and fill it with residential development.

Even this latest proposed development, despite the vote, is not a done deal. The latest vote did only two things. (1) It formalized the preference of the council for one of three possible tract configurations. (2) It authorized city staff to begin the process of getting an appraisal for the land. And development will depend on negotiations after that appraisal.

But confidence is high that things will move forward. Despite building slowing in many sectors due largely to a sharp increase in costs for both building materials and construction labor, the city has a perhaps under-appreciated ace in the form of a drought-driven moratorium on the construction of new golf courses in the region.

“Property on golf courses is still very desirable,” City Manager Taylour Tedder said earlier this year. “Especially due to the fact golf courses can no longer be constructed in Southern Nevada.”

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