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October 25, 2014

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Residents oppose movie studio plan

Doris Keating's vision is Mike and Layla Perfinski's nightmare.

The Perfinskis live in the Mission Hills development, three houses north of where Keating is planning to locate the main gate to her proposed Black Mountain Studios.

As principal developer, Keating sees her project, which has been compared to Universal Studios, as a clean, well-paying way to diversify Henderson's economy.

The Perfinskis and their neighbors think that once complete, the 85-acre, $200 million film production studio and sound stage will put an end to the rural lifestyle they chose at the southeast end of the valley.

The Perfinskis bought their home on San Eduardo Avenue two years ago knowing the area of open desert behind and to the south of them was zoned light industrial.

"And 1.5 million visitors is hardly light industry," Mission Hills Residents Affiliation President Mike Perfinski said, noting the numbers the studio developer has estimated it will draw.

Layla Perfinski said she is concerned about the chain of tourism attractions the studios could set off. The studios also will be located adjacent to two recently approved resort hotel-casinos -- Margheritaville and Big Horn -- off Foothills Drive.

"It will turn our neighborhood into a Strip atmosphere," she said. "It's probably a great theme park. It's just in the wrong neighborhood."

Keating said she has been working with the developers of the hotel-casino projects on compatibility and aesthetic issues.

"I think our project is going to be much more appealing than industrial uses," she said.

Layla Perfinski said, however, she and her neighbors have no quibbles with nearby Levi Strauss or the computer software company up the street.

Not so with Black Mountain Studios.

The city of Henderson sold Keating the 20 acres to develop the studios in March 1997. Now the Mission Hills residents are asking city officials to take the land back, claiming contract stipulations have not been met.

The Mission Hills Affiliation representing about 300 homeowners sent a fax to the Henderson officials earlier this month asking the city to re-purchase Keating's two tracts at the southeast corner of Dawson Avenue and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Keating, meanwhile, is asking for an extension of time to close the deal on the land purchase agreement for the remainder of the property that she signed Nov. 18, 1997.

After two continuations, the Henderson City Council is scheduled to address both requests Tuesday.

Mission Hills homeowners say they are frustrated the project has been continued at the past two council meetings and say they again will show up in full force Tuesday.

"It's been a comedy of errors," Mike Perfinski said.

John Rinaldi Jr., property manager for the city, said the city has a contract with Keating allowing her to buy the remainder of the Wagon Wheel Industrial Park, or 65 acres, in 20-acre parcels over three years.

Like the neighbors, Henderson City Council members have expressed concerned about construction delays and proposed changes for the development of the initial 5 acres of Keating's parcel.

According to City Attorney Shauna Hughes, the deadline for development on the first parcel was Nov. 30, 1998. In order for Keating to purchase the additional lots, the City Council would have to grant an extension of time on each one.

In an interoffice memo to Hughes from Andrew Urban, assistant city attorney, Urban wrote the council is not obliged to grant any extension of the deadlines for subsequent purchases of the remaining approximate 66 acres.

If it chooses not to grant the extension, Black Mountain Studios would not have the right to purchase any additional acreage because of a breach of contract. The city could the develop the property or sell it to an interested party.

The city's Property Management Committee, based on a presentation by Keating, "was persuaded that granting the extension of time would be acceptable to the City Council since the committee ... was under the impression the City Council supported the continuation of the development," the memo stated.

The memo, however, goes on to say that additional information that has come to light through the community and rumor mill concerning Keating's development plans are not reflected in the current planned-unit development application.

"Uses that have been mentioned concerning the Wagon Wheel Industrial site include a drive-in movie theatre, an animal sanctuary-type facility, a paintball game venue and an indoor skiing facility," the memo says. "The breadth of these potential uses, many of which would not be in accordance with the industrial park CC&Rs and design guidelines, has raised considerable concern among council members and the residents of the Mission Hills area."

Urban, in the memo, said in light of the question of whether Black Mountain Studios is developing a fully functional movie production venue or just a tourist attraction, it would be prudent for the City Council to explore whether it wished to continue in its contractual relationship with the studios.

Mayor Jim Gibson said he has no preference either way. He just wants to see the property developed in good faith and for the developer to "deliver what was promised on schedule and in a way that is good for residents."

The mayor said a rumor is unfounded that he has designs on the Wagon Wheel Industrial Park for Henderson's proposed state college.

"That is not from my lips or to my ears," he said. "I've had a few calls on both sides of the equation, and if someone is spreading that word, they are acting recklessly."

Gibson added he does not have any interest in the Wagon Wheel Industrial Park as a future state college location.

"But I do have a sincere interest in finding out where we are in this transaction," he said about the Black Mountain Studios development. "It is our (the council) responsibility to protect the residents."

Keating had no comment regarding her tentative map application, the request for an extension of time or the council's questions, saying only that her attorneys were handling it.

"All I'm focusing on now is how the project is going to positively effect the community through jobs and education," she said.

"My focus is on reminding people what the project is going to bring to the community."

The Planning Commission in December recommended approval of Keating's tentative map application, with 36 conditions.

Among the conditions are that outdoor filming shall be limited from sunrise to 9 p.m., and the applicant has to submit a revised landscaping plan, which provides 24-inch box trees, 15 feet on-center along the westerly and southerly boundary of Lot 1 -- between the studios and Mission Hills.

While the commission also recommended granting one waiver for a change in landscaping that departs from the Wagon Wheel Industrial Park, it recommended denying two other waiver requests -- one for the elimination of a requirement for a sidewalk on the southeast side of Dawson Avenue and the second for permission to obtain grading permits prior to the approval of drainage plans for the project.

City Council approval of the tentative map is needed for Black Mountain Studios to proceed with development.

Neighboring residents also expressed concerns about increased traffic and resumed train service to the studios proposed for the Union Pacific tracks that run behind their homes.

Mission Hills residents won't be caught in any traffic jams caused by the studio, according to Keating, because they can't get into the subdivision off the Wagon Wheel Drive exit.

Cinda Stillings, who has owned a home in Mission Hills for more than a decade, said she and most of her neighbors have horses that would be adversely affected by the noise produced by the studios.

"What happens if our children are riding their horses and they set off some pyrotechnics?" she asked. "There must be somewhere else in the city's 80 square miles they can locate it (the studios)."

Stillings is not against progress, and she wants to be a good neighborhood but "our homes were here first."

"This is a unique area, and we would like to keep it that way," she said.

Keating has held two meetings with the neighbors and in the past has said she had made numerous concessions including extending the buffer to 100 feet.

But Layla Perfinski said Keating told the Mission Hills homeowners, whose homes range from $200,000 to $700,000, that if they didn't like the idea of the studios, they should sell their houses.

The affiliation, which was officially formed in November, was created to bring the neighborhood together, said Mike Perfinski.

Up to now, the Mission Hills homeowners have been surrounded by city-owned property, so it is no wonder they are concerned, Rinaldi said.

The city also owns a strip of property along San Andreas Avenue that it is subdividing into 12 nominally 1/2-acre lots, which back up the the industrial park, Rinaldi said.

While the City Council has yet to authorize the sale of the lots, Rinaldi said he does not think they will be difficult to sell, despite their proximity to the proposed studios.

"Something was going to go in behind them," he said, as a result of the industrial park zoning. "They are in a desirable neighborhood, and we've provided all the utilities for the lots."

In addition, the city owns a little less than 2 acres in the industrial park that it re-purchased from a former vitamin plant, Winning Combination, and plans to use for city purposes, said Rinaldi.

The city bought back the facility in December for about $2.6 million because it needed additional space and the company needed to expand, Rinaldi said. The company relocated in Henderson near Sunset Road and U.S. 95.

The only other business in the industrial park is a computer software company, Cam Data Systems. Levi Strauss is located outside the park.

Councilwoman Amanda Cyphers, whose ward includes Mission Hills, said she will base her vote -- just as on any project -- on how it would affect area residents' quality of life.

"These people have a rural lifestyle, and we need to make sure they preserve that," she said. "I live in a rural neighborhood, and I understand their concerns."

Cyphers said when Keating's project first came before the council, members did not hear a loud roar of opposition.

"It is natural for citizens to be concerned about a large project," she said. "Overall I felt there was support. There wasn't the opposition you would find today."

Cyphers said the council still has questions about the project as well. "We don't have the overall picture," she said.

That's why each 20-acre phase of the project must be brought before the City Council for architectural review.

Keating, who would not comment on the changes, is proposing printing presses and laundry facilities as part of the studio -- requests that are new to the council, Hughes said.

"We don't believe that is the project originally sold to the city," Henderson spokeswoman Vicki Taylor said.

Keating, however, remains positive about the studios that she says will double as a training facility for the film industry.

Keating is in the process of coordinating various education programs with UNLV, the Community College of Southern Nevada, the Clark County School District and the local labor unions.

"This is the first time I have ever seen a cross collaboration between labor, education and business," she said. "As part of the pilot program, we expect to have apprentices working on the film crews. They will be paid to learn."

Thomas Walker, film and television representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators Local 720, sent a letter Wednesday to the mayor supporting the development of the studios.

"This (Black Mountain Studios), as opposed to using the land as merely a housing track, would bring major economic development in the fastest-growing industry to the fastest-growing city," he wrote. "Currently we are working mutually for such things as a proper apprentice program tied into UNLV and the Community College of Southern Nevada."

Walker added IATSE Local 720 would actively oppose any attempt to change the agreement between the city and Keating.

Keating, whose resume includes the production of nine movies, said she chose to locate Black Mountain Studios in Henderson because of its proximity to Los Angeles, its perpetually sunny skies and its distance from airport runways.

"The U.S. 95 corridor is one of the few areas in the valley where there are no airplanes flying low overhead," she said. "We also wanted to find an area that would not impact neighbors."

Henderson officials also -- initially -- were very supportive of the project and its potential to diversify the city's economy, Keating said.

"They (city leaders) really wanted to cease being a bedroom community, and this was a very prestigious, good-paying and clean industry," she said. "But economic diversification was the biggest reason."

Keating added the studio will provide the Las Vegas Valley's tourists with another form of non-gaming entertainment.

"The tourists want to get off the Strip for one day and most go to the Hoover Dam," she said.

Visitors can tour movie sets, sound stages and take home a video of themselves in a film clip of their choice.

"We won't have rides," she said. "People really want to know how movies are made."

The financial backing for the project will come from pre-leases as well as out of Keating's pocket.

"I'm taking down (purchasing) the first phase with my own money," she said, adding additional phases will be purchased with bank financing. "The next project will be the major sound stage studio."

As a good faith gesture, Keating said Black Mountain Studios also is donating the topiary park -- almost a third of an acre -- to the city.

"It's a really beautiful project, which involves a lot of green areas and public areas," she said.

The building is proposed to be a concrete tilt-up structure with a portion of its north and west elevations to be constructed to look like a New York City facade for filming.

The finished project is expected to include several sound stages, editing and storage facilities and an area to house animals used in filming, as well as sets for visiting film producers.

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