Residential golf course closure bill gutted under lobbying pressure, passes Senate

by Roger Moellendorf and Brian Bahouth

Somersett Golf and Country Club in May 2019, a central feature in Reno's Ward 5 – photo: Brian Bahouth/the Ally

Carson City – Golf Courses have been closing across the nation due to a significant decline in the number of people playing golf. Homeowners who live near closed courses have seen significant decreases in property values, and real estate developers appear eager to convert over-grown fairways into streets with residential and commercial development.

This situation has become acute in Nevada because there is a high demand for residential units and very little private property available for development.  Developers see failing golf courses as prime potential to meet housing demands, but when courses do fail, the property often becomes a weedy and unsightly nuisance that has severe financial impacts on adjacent residential property owners. Many property owners purchased their homes with the expectation that an attractive golf course will not only provide a positive quality of life experience but will also add to the value of their homes and property.

In an effort to address this situation, Henderson Democrat Senator Joyce Woodhouse worked with stakeholders who live near a failed golf course in southern Nevada to write SB251Rick Carter is from Henderson and has lived on the Legacy Golf Course for 12 years. Carter worked with Senator Woodhouse and others to write SB251 and was also part of a lawsuit against the Legacy Golf Course. The settlement ensured the course would be maintained in exchange for authorization to develop part of the property.

Hear Roger Moellendorf interview Rick Carter.

“It (SB251) came out of our heart and our experience at the Legacy Golf Course, so the bill was drafted with that in mind, and it was drafted with our community, our broader community, our Nevada community in mind because we see devastation at so many different golf courses throughout Clark County and up here in Washoe County and in other areas, so that’s what happened there,” Carter said.

The Badlands Golf Course has been embroiled in an ongoing fight with the City of Las Vegas and homeowners in the community.  According to reports, the Silverstone Golf Course closed in 2015, and new owners are looking to develop the property.

The original form of the bill was lengthy and detailed and mandated that a failed course must continue to be maintained in an appropriate manner to avoid blight, and further, the property cannot be otherwise developed without an environmental impact study and the approval of regional governing authorities, but Carter said Senator Woodhouse decided to scrap the language of the original bill and move forward with an amendment that would institute a study of effete golf courses due to pressure from construction industry lobbyists.

“The bill as drafted was very comprehensive in terms of planning, land use, what happens if there is a reduction in value of homes when a golf course is developed, harm to the environment, doing planning, doing environmental impacts. All kinds of things are in the original bill,” Carter said and added that real estate development companies opposed the original bill for several reasons, especially the provision to potentially compensate homeowners within 2,000 feet of the closed course for diminished property value.

Section 6 of the bill laid out the diminution in value provision, from the bill:

An  owner  of a plot  or parcel of  land used for residential purposes that is located within 2,000 feet of a residential  golf course that has been converted to  any other use pursuant to section of this  act may bring an action against the owner  of the converted residential golf course   to determine whether such conversion caused a diminution in value of the plot or parcel of land of the owner. Upon a determination that such a conversion caused a diminution in value of the plot or parcel of land of the owner, the owner shall recover a sum equal to the diminution in value, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

“The development companies throughout the state of Nevada were very concerned about that provision (the provision to compensate homeowners for diminished property values for the failure of an adjacent golf course) and other provisions but that one in particular because going into these developments, there are plenty of unknowns, and that was another unknown that they just didn’t want to deal with, so they’ve been lobbying against the bill. The bottom line is that they’ve been lobbying against the bill,” Carter told Roger Moellendorf.

Construction industry businesses in Nevada are aggressive contributors to political campaigns. Since May of 2016,  Senator Woodhouse has accepted $17,500.00 in campaign contributions from the following construction-related businesses.

Cashman Cat $1,000.00
Nevada Bankers Association $500.00
Building and Construction Trade-COPE $2,500.00
Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council $4,500.00
Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters $6,000.00
Associated General Contractors – Build PAC $2,500.00
Nevada Realtors $5,000.00
Las Vegas Paving Corp. $2,000.00
Nevada Home Builder Association $2,500.00
Construction Industry Committee $2,000.00
Nevada Subcontractors Association PAC $2,500.00

For Rick Carter, property owners affected by golf course closures can’t compete with the political spending and lobbyist arm-twisting the real estate development industries can deploy.

“We as homeowners in our community in the Legacy, we don’t have paid lobbyists. We don’t have people paying our expenses. I flew up here on my own dime to testify today and talk with legislators because we’re committed. We’re committed to making Nevada a constantly better place,” Carter said with a sense of disappointment but added that he agreed with the approach of commissioning a study and writing legislation in 2021.

“The authors were concerned that we might lose the legislation based on this tremendous outpouring of opposition to what regular citizens are trying to achieve here, so their approach I think is a reasonable one and that was, let’s do a study, let’s really get all these various forces together in the same room at the same time, developers, citizens, HOAs, local units of government, state government etc, and to have a robust discussion about all the things that need to be accomplished.

“You could even hear from the hearing today that some of the definitions that are in the bill are a little imprecise simply because we don’t know. We don’t know the answers to all these questions, Senator Woodhouse, God bless her, wanted to move forward with something that’s really solid. That if we are going to receive opposition, at least we’ll understand clearly why there’s opposition and if we can alleviate the opposition through decent planning, discussions, transparency on the whole thing. That’s what she’s trying to achieve, and then move forward with legislation after.”

The Nevada Senate passed the amended version of SB251 by a unanimous vote on April 16. The bill will likely be assigned to the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs.

Footnote:

Golf courses are polluters

There are Roughly 20 golf courses in and around Las Vegas, and some 14 in the Reno area, many part of master-planned communities.

Nonpoint source pollution is the leading cause of water quality degradation in Nevada, and the contrived state of nature found on golf courses comes with an environmental price. Here in arid Nevada, golf courses use agricultural quantities of water to keep fairways green, and more, golf courses are notorious as sources of nonpoint source pollution with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides running off fairways and into regional watersheds.