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Action needed to halt Henderson’s sprawl

Mayor (Kiernan) McManus’ Sept. 1 column touted his future plans to conserve wastewater. At the tail end, he offhandedly mentioned Henderson’s intent to annex county land below Railroad Pass to promote its own expansive growth plans. You and I might have missed those three sentences if we weren’t paying close attention. But somehow Henderson’s mayor, Debra March, was well aware.

In an orchestrated response published two weeks later, Mayor March, whom I respect as one of Southern Nevada’s finest leaders, confirmed her city’s clear intent to annex, congratulating her friend McManus on his conservation efforts and gently dismissing his casual concerns about leapfrogging existing infrastructure. Then last week she and the Henderson City Council met to move forward with their Eldorado Valley annexation plans.

It’s no surprise that Henderson annexes land to grow. By contrast, Boulder City annexes to stop growth. For both cities, that’s been the pattern for decades.

My father, Bruce Woodbury, spent 28 years on the Clark County Commission fighting to protect Boulder City from urban sprawl. He and former Mayor Eric Lundgaard were among those who led the charge to annex 168 square miles of Eldorado Valley land in 1995 as a buffer against aggressive development. They then negotiated for the county to pay Boulder City millions to designate most of that land as conservation easements, endangered species habitat, and public recreation areas, thus ensuring that development could never occur there. Otherwise, the metropolis that we call Vegas would have spread into Eldorado Valley years ago, and Boulder City would now be an indistinguishable suburb in the unending sprawl.

Beginning in 2005, developer Larry Canerelli of American West Homes proposed construction of over 7,000 homes in Eldorado Valley, then reduced his proposal to 3,800 residences. To prevent Canerelli’s attempts, the city, including Mayor Bob Ferraro, council members Mike Pacini and Andrea Anderson, City Manager Vicki Mayes and Community Development Director Brok Armantrout commenced a preemptive strike to annex 6,400 acres of federal land, with an additional 1,100 acres slated to follow later. They also considered a potential land swap involving areas in Dutchman’s Pass. My dad supported those efforts and further lobbied his colleagues on the county commission to implement a zoning moratorium, thereby stalling the proposed high-density development.

In 2015, Henderson voted to consider annexing 2,738 acres (more than four square miles) in Eldorado Valley, including both private and federal land. D.R. Horton and Raintree Investments were considered prime candidates to build hundreds of homes with complementary businesses. Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen was a strong advocate, as was then-Councilwoman March.

Mayor Roger Tobler worked hard with Henderson officials to discourage development or, at a minimum, mitigate its negative impacts. Usual concerns were raised about the cost of extending utilities, pumping wastewater back over the hill, and a lack of nearby services, including emergency responders and schools. Environmental issues like naturally occurring asbestos — a very hot topic at the time — also served as a fortuitous deterrent.

When I was mayor, Henderson continued its aggressive growth agenda, proposing to annex Bureau of Land Management land in Dutchman’s Pass so that it could eventually complete a ring of development around the McCullough mountains and enter Eldorado Valley not only from the north through Railroad Pass but also from the south by the dry lake. City Manager Al Noyola and I worked with the feds to negotiate carve-outs in Dutchman’s Pass near the dry lake to serve as yet another buffer against Henderson’s growth, and our council planned additional solar facilities there to discourage residential development.

However, it appears those efforts were abandoned after I left office, leaving an open path now for Henderson to creep into our valley from the south.

I recently asked a management level staff member what the city is currently doing to either stop Henderson’s efforts to infiltrate our open spaces, create an acceptable buffer, or otherwise lessen the gravity of inevitable negative impacts. I was told the city has determined there’s really nothing that can be done.

Nothing? Really? In my mind, that’s a completely unacceptable response. Ten years ago, our entire city was up in arms when the Pro Gun Club merely refused to remove its hillside sign, thumbing its nose at our complaints about distant visual blight near Railroad Pass. And now we’re just going to lie down and do nothing as major development threatens to spill into our space?

I realize that Boulder City probably can’t legally stop Henderson’s annexation efforts, especially this late in the game. And our own opportunity to preemptively annex as a buffer has likely already sailed as well. But what about political action and diplomacy? Surely there’s still some horse trading that can be done or creative compromises that can be struck to protect us.

When I first saw Mayor March’s article in September, I assumed we’d see a swift and decisive response from Mayor McManus. So, I waited to give him a chance before saying anything. But two months later, we’re still waiting. And now that Henderson is fully mobilized, it’s still nothing but crickets from the mayor.

Well, the silence is deafening, given the seriousness of the threat. And while I appreciate Mayor McManus’ penchant for planning, the time to plan is over. It’s action time now. So, the one question for the mayor that all of Boulder City wants answered is this: “Like your predecessors over the past three decades, what exactly have you done since being elected, what precisely are you doing now, and what specifically will you do in the near future to protect Boulder City’s interests in Eldorado Valley against the negative effects of Henderson’s growth strategy?”

Please don’t evade the question or change the subject. And please don’t just parrot the same false narrative that my administration sought to promote rapid growth in Eldorado Valley when all we did was study the possibilities of preempting Henderson with compatible light industrial facilities on our side of Interstate 11 where Boulder City, not Henderson, would have total control and receive the tax revenue.

We’re entitled to straight answers. Even though annexation may already be a forgone conclusion, let’s work together to mitigate its effects. There are many Boulder City citizens, including me, who are here to help and support your efforts.

The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.

Rod Woodbury has resided in Boulder City for more than 40 years and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law. He served on the City Council from 2011- 2019, including four years as mayor.

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