Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Stupak plan sinks

Residents of historic Fifth Place are feeling like they're kings of the world today after the Las Vegas City Council sank a zoning proposal related to a Titanic-themed resort in their neighborhood.

Casino entrepreneur Bob Stupak's plans for the 1,000-cabin hotel and adjacent iceberg shopping center went down in seconds after a cold reception from residents and a majority of the council as icy as the northern Atlantic waters that claimed the resort's namesake.

The 4-1 denial of a zoning change to a denser type of commercial use on the property means Stupak must wait a full year before seeking a similar request on the same site at Las Vegas Boulevard and Park Paseo.

Mayor Jan Laverty Jones was the only council member who voted against the denial.

After the vote, Stupak quickly left the council chambers saying he had yet to make up his mind about how next to proceed with his plans for the $200 million project he touted just two months ago by handing reporters pieces of coal unearthed from the ship's grave.

"I never get upset," a tight-lipped Stupak said before quickly leaving City Hall. "Everything's all right. Fate had its way.

"I'm not going to commit suicide," he added. "I don't even know what the whole ramifications are."

Stupak entered Monday's meeting in the wake of a one-page statement faxed last week to media outlets claiming a majority of council members supported delaying the zoning change vote for one to two months.

Actually, the four council members had made no such statements to Stupak and were barraged with calls from worried residents wondering how the professional gambler and former Stratosphere owner had pulled such a deal.

Prior to the meeting, Stupak tried to stave off the growing tide of protest by sharing a quiet moment with Bob Bellis, president of the John S. Park Neighborhood Association.

"I just want peace," Stupak said to Bellis outside City Hall.

"Yeah, a piece of our neighborhood," Bellis replied.

Inside the council chambers, Stupak found a lone life preserver for his request in Jones, who said she was willing to grant him more time to meet with neighbors.

But Councilman Gary Reese didn't allow that option.

"I have always tried to fight for the preservations of neighborhoods," Reese said. "I think that we have to have the buffer for the residents who live there."

The buffer is a thin parcel of C-1, or limited commercial, land that backs immediately up to Fifth Place, a low-density residential neighborhood whose oldest home was built in 1931.

However, Stupak said he didn't understand why that parcel had C-1 zoning to begin with, since his Thunderbird Hotel is located on the very site.

"This is all news to me," Stupak said after city planners who spent 30 minutes examining the county assessor's records to determine precise zoning informed him the entire parcel backing up to the neighborhood is C-1, not C-2 as Stupak had suspected.

"I was always under the impression the Thunderbird property has always been C-2," Stupak said.

If that were the case, he argued, the council would merely be considering changing the zoning on a small parcel of land at the far corner of Park Paseo -- a change, he said, that would not affect the neighbors.

The Planning Commission unanimously denied the zoning change request in April, saying the residents needed a lower-density zoning immediately behind their homes.

However, the city's planning staff recommended the City Council approve Stupak's zoning change request because C-2 uses are allowable in the tourist corridor along Las Vegas Boulevard.

The council was originally supposed to hear Stupak's appeal of the Planning Commission decision two weeks ago. Instead, Stupak was granted a two-week abeyance, angering about 100 residents who came to the meeting to protest.

Only a few dozen residents attended Monday's meeting to urge that their historic homes be spared a zoning change that would allow 280-foot-high ship smokestacks to tower over their decades-old apricot and palm trees.

"Changing the zoning only allows building whatever one wants," said Kenny Stewart, a 10-year resident of the neighborhood.

Stupak and Jones both warned residents the council was not considering the actual Titanic project on Monday -- only the zoning change.

"The Titanic ship is not on the agenda," Stupak said.

Added Jones: "We're talking about zoning, we're not talking about use."

Still, one resident called Stupak's proposal "a monstrosity out of place in this desert community."

Stupak said if granted an additional delay, he would work with residents and even consider moving the hotel to the other side of the street, to an unspecified parcel downtown or elsewhere on the Strip within the city's limits.

He also referenced the buyout of hundreds of homeowners who "had to be removed" in order for the MGM Grand hotel-casino to be built.

"Everything and anything is possible," Stupak said, referring to the offers made residents for those homes at the time.

In the wake of council's denial, Stupak cannot seek another decision on the same property for one full year, according to city ordinance.

Stupak said he would study his options.

However, Los Angeles-based developer Alan Rubin filed an injunction against Stupak on Monday in District Court claiming he has lone rights to the Titanic Resorts trademark.

Rubin said he is planning his own ship-themed resort three miles south of the Mandalay Bay on Las Vegas Boulevard in the county.

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