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Gaming Guru

Hubble Smith

Fontainebleau plans viewed with wrath

18 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Turnberry Place residents Robert and Gail Poll are looking for justice, not sympathy.

No doubt, the 23-story parking garage and convention center under construction at Fontainebleau resort is a far cry from the Strip view they bought in Turnberry's first tower in 2001.

But that it lies just 36 feet from Turnberry's western property line violates Title 30, a Clark County ordinance for land-use application that dictates a setback distance of three feet for every one foot in height for buildings next to residential areas, Robert Poll said.

"It's not the view. You can't protect the view, but you can protect against doing things against the law, and that's Title 30," he said. "The air and noise pollution is really a concern to us. It's not about the view, it's about quality of life, and they're really screwing it up by doing this."

Aventura, Fla.-based Turnberry Associates started building Turnberry Place in 1998, constructing four 38-story towers with 720 units. After purchasing the 21-acre former El Rancho site for $45 million in 2000 and an adjacent 3-acre parcel for $95 million in 2005, the company announced plans for the $3 billion Fontainebleau project.

Turnberry residents say they were deceived by the developer. Sales employees told prospective buyers and residents that the parking structure would be seven stories and the first two levels would be underground, Robert Poll said.

He said they were never notified of a change to 175 feet for the garage. In July, the Clark County Commission approved a variance to 250 feet.

Residents are taking the matter to court and have hired attorney J.T. Moran to argue their case. District Judge Michael Vilani is scheduled to rule Friday on a petition for judicial review to see if the county acted arbitrarily and capriciously.

"Our complaint is with the county," Poll said. "We're not going to court against Turnberry, we're going to court against the commission."

After the petition is heard, it's probably going to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Nevada by one side or the other, Moran said.

"They're going to look at the law and follow the law. If they do that, it's a layup," he said.

Julie Stapleton and her sister, Ann Stager, pooled their resources to buy a unit at Turnberry's tower one in 2000. They knew something would eventually be built to obstruct their view.

"We bought on the third floor. We were not looking for a view," Stapleton said. "Our concern is now the toxins and noise and pollutants are absolutely going to be unbearable. Five thousand cars and trucks going in and out daily, right about 70 feet from our balcony. I think it's absolutely criminal to build this monstrosity here."

For the past six years, Cheryl and Stan Tomchin have enjoyed a view of the Strip and mountains surrounding Las Vegas Valley from their sixth-floor unit in tower one.

"After spending a great deal of time, money and effort to make our home comfortable, it now sits empty and real estate value plummeted all because the owner and his son only care about bottom lines instead of integrity," the couple wrote in an e-mail to the Review-Journal. "It is clear they have no class or moral values."

Jeff Soffer, who has taken over leadership of Turnberry Associates from his father and company founder, Don Soffer, said the El Rancho site is zoned H-1 (hotel and gaming) and residents knew what was coming.

"We're not going to buy a 20-acre property and leave it as a vacant lot," he said. "It's a property with proper zoning and nothing was ever promised. It's as simple as that. What are they going to do with the Wet 'n Wild site? Are they going to say they deceived them? The Riviera may be torn down and rebuilt. Are they going to oppose every project? What about the Jockey Club? What about the 8,000 employees we'll have and the taxes we pay? The bottom line is you can't please everyone."

Soffer said Turnberry did a "respectful job" of building the hotel tower away from the residents.

"Obviously, it's a big project with a lot of intricacy. Like we've done all along, we're going to build a quality product," he said.

The El Rancho site is owned by a different entity and has nothing to do with Turnberry Place, Soffer added. The company is also developing the 1.5 million-square-foot Town Square retail and office project on Las Vegas Boulevard in a joint venture with Las Vegas-based Centra Properties.

Turnberry resident Gerry Serino said she's witnessed "deceitful and cocky attitudes" from the developer and the county commissioners.

Aside from sliding home values, she's concerned about the "underhanded, illegal procedures" used to get the garage height approved and the vague language in notifications mailed to residents.

"The language was never clear, never precise," she wrote in an e-mail. "Structures were 'framed' with supports of steel that would support these structures to a height that wasn't even approved at the time. This, according to several engineers who took pictures, was the case. How the hell did that happen?"

Moran said Turnberry could have complied with Title 30 or could have requested a waiver for the setback, but did neither. Furthermore, Turnberry never published a notice in a Clark County publication that the height was going to 250 feet, he said.

"This is where the developer made a big mistake," Moran said. "What they basically did is hide the ball until the very end. They tried to sneak this thing through. I've got to tell you, this is riddled with hide-the-ball."

Soffer said residents signed documents when they purchased their units acknowledging that they're in a casino district. "You live in an urban area with high-rise condos. Zoning is what it is," he said.