2006: Coyote Springs’ plans test the limits

If the developers of Coyote Springs have their way, there soon will be a new city rising in the desert 55 miles north of Las Vegas. With any luck, it will become not only a booming residential area, but also a major golf destination, including a western center for the PGA of America.

The scope of the project is almost as breathtaking as the summer heat here.

Plans call for a development totaling 43,000 acres, or 67 square miles, with 159,000 homes, 16 golf courses, schools, medical facilities, shopping, entertainment and roads. If fully built out – and the prospects are by no means assured given the objections of environmental groups and

the political minefield of permitting that is involved – Coyote Springs would become Nevada’s third-largest city, behind Las Vegas and Reno. All it is now is a parched stretch of the Mojave Desert, with scant visible resources or water to sustain any but the barest animal life.

A Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course already is under construction, and a

co-design involving Pete Dye and Nicklaus is being routed on paper. Also in the immediate works is a PGA Village, including

four buildings comprising 100,000 square feet

for clubhouse, teaching facilities, conference rooms and a kinematics lab, along with a 45-acre practice area. The arrangement involves a licensing fee paid to the PGA, plus a percentage of revenue for residential lots fronting the golf courses in the immediate village area.

Joe Steranka, CEO of the PGA of America, is so excited about the prospects for Coyote Springs that in October, during a leadership conference in Las Vegas involving representatives from 41 PGA sections, he took time off to bring four busloads of members to this desolate outpost in hopes of seeing the future. After earlier plans for a PGA Village in San Antonio fell through because of labor- and water-related issues, the PGA of America renewed its search for a Western site and found it in Coyote Springs.

Coyote Springs Investment LLC, an affiliate of the Wingfield Nevada Group, is developing the project. The firm is owned and operated by Annette and Harvey Whittemore and Norine and Tom Seeno, and is one of the largest landholders and developers in the state.

Given the scale and cost of the project, this is not an undertaking that will be established immediately. Chief developer Harvey Whittemore anticipates a build out that could last 20 to 30 years, with early plans for 1,000-2,000 new homes per year, the bulk of which will be built through a partnership with Pardee Homes.

Even on the golf side, Whittemore expects the pace of development to be slow, with the construction of courses “likely to go down”

from the full proposal of 16. Plans call for the courses to be irrigated largely from recycled water, and it takes 4,000 homes to generate enough wastewater to supply each golf course, Whittemore said. So the pace of course construction is going to depend upon home building and occupancy at least as much as it depends on demand.

The development plan involves complex negotiations with county, state and federal authorities. Coyote Springs is even more complicated, in large part because the environmentally fragile site straddles two counties, Clark and Lincoln, each with different protocols for environmental assessment.

In addition, the site involves jurisdictional authority from such federal agencies as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The immediate issues of concern for regulators are adequate water supplies and the fate of at least two federally protected species: the desert tortoise and the Moapa dace, a small fish that lives in the Muddy River.

While permits have been issued for the Clark County parcel, including the first golf courses, the permitting process for the two-thirds of Coyote Springs located in Lincoln County is far from completion. A preliminary plan has been worked out with county, state and federal officials to set aside a 13,000-acre (20 square mile) tract for wildlife and untouched desert, but environmental groups are contesting the terms and boundaries of the conservation easement.

Some ecologists also worry that the deal doesn’t go far enough. Their concern is with Coyote Springs’ larger impact on other desert animals, including the Gila monster, willow flycatcher and kit fox. Beyond that, they worry that a new city the scale of Coyote Springs, with its paved floor print, traffic patterns, water use and energy consumption, will bring with it a destruction of the fragile desert. That would weaken indigenous flora such as cholla, yucca and cacti, plus create light pollution and massive amounts of particulant dust in the air capable of undermining native habitat and the overall quality of life throughout southern Nevada. The common term for the phenomenon is “sprawl,” and Coyote Springs is seen as a prime example of it.

Jane Feldman, conservation co-chairperson of the Sierra Club’s Southern Nevada Group, believes that Coyote Springs is a model of what not to do in large-scale development. At the end of an eight-page filing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Coyote Springs, Feldman, a retired Air Force major who now volunteers her time to the Sierra Club, wrote that “environmentally, for species and habitat, for smart growth decisions, for conservative use of scarce resources, the project should be completely abandoned.”

The problem isn’t just with Coyote Springs, she said.

“We’ve sold our souls to developers in the state,” Feldman said. “If a developer wants something in Nevada, they get it.”

Feldman is especially concerned with the long-term environmental impact of the water rights that Whittemore has secured on behalf of Coyote Springs. She attributes the problem largely to the residential, vehicle traffic and commercial development portions of the project. The golf courses, she said, are wisely used in the area to offset water misuse.

“Golf courses are among the most efficient large users of water in Clark County,” Feldman said. “The superintendents there know how to irrigate through proper scheduling, and they know how to recycle.”

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