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Henderson Developer Seeks Density Increase

A developer close to breaking ground on a 2,000-acre Henderson neighborhood wants to build an extra 3,000 homes to support a proposed resort casino and commercial project.

Focus Property Group has petitioned the city for a 38 percent increase in the housing density at its Inspirada development, raising the number of units from 11,500 to 14,500, said Henderson City Attorney Shauna Hughes.

The request comes as Focus is preparing to submit an application to the city this summer requesting a casino at the western Henderson development. Unlike a similar project in a Las Vegas luxury master planned community in North Las Vegas, plans for the Henderson casino have been met by little opposition so far.

Any move to increase the density, however, will draw close scrutiny from city officials and from residents in neighboring subdivisions worried about additional traffic and lost views.

The extra 3,000 units - expected to be multi-level condominiums and apartments - would be built on a 300-acre mixed-use development known as the Town Center, where the casino and more than 1 million square feet of commercial retail and office space are planned.

When the city adopted a development agreement with Focus in May 2005, it limited housing in the 300-acre section to 3,000 units. That number would double to 6,000 under the revised proposal, creating the potential for taller buildings, Hughes said. Henderson generally limits the heights of residential buildings to 35 feet.

"Houses don't block our view, but if you start seeing towers along the main view of the mountains, that will upset our people," said Favil West, president of the Sun City Anthem Homeowners Association, which has backed the development.

Mark Fiorentino, Focus' vice president of government affairs, said the project's location just south of the Henderson Executive Airport will necessarily limit heights. He said it is too soon to say, however, what height will be requested.

Increasing the density to create a more intense version of the District in Green Valley Ranch homes in Henderson is important to the project's success, he said.

"It helps create an urban core by putting more people in the area," Fiorentino said. "It's not any different than developing a new core in downtown Las Vegas. We are trying to create an energy and critical mass where we have a much better chance of success."

When Focus unveiled its project, the city resisted the company's wish for higher density levels, said Councilwoman Amanda Cyphers. She said the city should be cautious, too, in reviewing the latest request because planning for schools, park space, police and fire protection, roads and libraries were based on the projected 11,500 homes.

"When you throw in 3,000 more units, it skews that plan," Cyphers said. "We may have to relook at all those numbers and see what needs to be provided. It all comes down to services that are needed for the public."

Fiorentino said the project's complexities made it difficult a year ago to determine the amount of housing needed to support the Town Center. But he said the proposed 20 units-per-acre density is considerably below the 40 to 50 units per acre found in other parts of the Las Vegas Valley.

Las Vegas real estate consultant John Restrepo said it is not usual for a developer to want higher densities even after a development agreement is approved.

Increasing the number of units would complement the project's "New Urbanism" design concept, which features dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods interconnected with narrow streets, village squares, parks and open space, he said.

Construction is to begin later this year on model homes that will be part of seven villages of 200 to 250 acres each. 

"When you are trying to bring that much commercial development with office, retail and a casino, you need high-density residential to support it," Restrepo said.

Focus has yet to complete its plans for the casino, but the project has yet to generate any significant opposition.

That contrasts with North Las Vegas, where nearly 2,000 people signed petitions and sent e-mails to council members opposing a casino along the Las Vegas Beltway.

The difference between the two cities may be as simple as geography, some said.

Focus proposes to build its casino west of Sun City Anthem, a 55-and-older community. In North Las Vegas, parents with young children are leading the opposition to a casino proposed by the Olympia Group.

"It may well be that families look at it differently than retired people," West said. "Most of the people on the hill are gamers, and you see them every day at the South Coast or Green Valley Ranch."

Cyphers said she believes the proposed Inspirada casino has escaped criticism because it's in the middle of the 2,000-acre development. That buffer makes people feel more comfortable, she said.

In North Las Vegas, residents complained how the proposed casino is at the edge of the housing development.

Fiorentino believes his project has escaped criticism so far because Focus met with nearby residents to gain their support. Residents see the casino as more convenient and want its amenities of movie theaters, restaurants and shopping, he said.

But what has helped the most is the casino's location, which would be buffered from homes for sale in Inspirada by a mix of commercial and residential uses, he said.

"That's not to say when the public hearing process begins, there won't be any concerns," Fiorentino said. "What helps our situation is that we control the 2,000 acres, and we can locate the casino in a way for those who want to get to it easily but not impact those who may not have any interest in it."

Despite the absence of an outcry over a casino in Inspirada, many Henderson residents, especially those with families, are already moving to keep casinos away from their neighborhoods in the future.

A citizens group has proposed an ordinance that would be more restrictive than state law in regard to how far casinos would have to be from homes in Lake Las Vegas, churches and schools. Inspirada's casino would be exempt from the measure.

Action on that proposal is on hold awaiting a city attorney's report.

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