Lands around Red Rock Canyon are currently ground zero in a tumultuous battle between developers and environmentalists over whether or not the Blue Diamond Hills will become the site of a brand new neighborhood of mini-mansions. The morale has been low since the passing of these plans two weeks ago, and the information difficult to suss out, so I got local professional climbing photographer (and trad artist), Irene Yee, on the line to shed some light on what, exactly, is happening in Red Rock.

Alex: Hey there! So, big stuff in the works it seems! I don’t myself have a super great idea of what’s going on out there in Red Rock, but from what I’ve read, it sounds as though a handful of areas, climbing and otherwise, may be in jeopardy from this new property development deal. What’s actually going on?

Irene: Hey! So what they (the owners of Blue Diamond Hills area) have right now is rural zoning for Blue Diamond Hills, which is the stretch between the city and red rock canyon. That means it’s allowed only a very limited amount of homes on it. What they have continued to try and do is get the area re-zoned for higher density, so they can pack more homes in. What Clark County Commission passed last week, was the original proposal from 2008 to rezone that area for 5,000 homes. So this is just a step in the process. They haven’t said yes or no, it could still be stopped, but last week was an opportunity for the county and the commissioners to pull the plug on the project right now, but they didn’t. Now it’s a continuation of a really long battle between this company (that has been fighting for years) and the people who want the area left alone. So it’s just a half-step in the wrong direction. Right now the area is pretty rural, and they’re not only proposing houses, but they are proposing shops, and industry, a full planned community, and that’s where the traffic problems and the ecological problems begin.
Alex: Is any of the actual climbing in danger of being demolished?

Irene: The area of land in question has some climbing on it, albeit not incredible from what I’ve heard, but there is some. But what it really affects are the views. If you’re in that canyon climbing or hiking your view will be the backs of these 5,000 homes, and however many shops, and the traffic that goes along with that. Right now it’s really nice, you have the strip off in the distance but there is this really nice natural barrier between you and the city. So what’s going to happen is the whole skyline will be stores and homes. The company brought in a survey to the hearing that claimed only 20% of what we’re planning would be visible from the park, but that just isn’t true. A lot of the climbers testified that when you are up in that canyon, whether you hike, or climb, you can see 100% of the top of that hill, and it would absolutely be obstructing your view of the natural landscape.

 Alex: So, if the climbing itself isn’t in direct jeopardy, what is the tangible fear in this proposal?

Irene: I think the fear is that this project is moving urban spaces into a sort of already dedicated wilderness space. For me, the area is a much needed natural barrier between the city and the outdoors. It’s this nice stretch of space between the city where you can finally feel removed and you can find your peace out in the Red Rock.  For a lot of people, the fear is traffic. Right now, the scenic loop is getting more traffic than it has ever before. Every weekend they’re breaking records on how many cars are driving through the loop. With that amount of growing traffic, combined with what’s projected from this development, there would be a likely 14,000 more trips daily made on this road. A road and space that was not designed to handle that kind of traffic. That’s not the point of a scenic byway, it’s not supposed to support that kind of a load. So between just the amount of new bodies and the factored in years of construction traffic all on a one-lane, scenic road, it will be mayhem. The disruption of the developing and the likely constant repairing of the byway would be detrimental to the serenity of the area. From another perspective, this is one of very few places where cyclists living in the area can get out and ride safely. No one cares about sharing the road with cyclists in Vegas, but here people know they’re on the road and, in turn, look out for them. Increasing the traffic to that degree is only going to increase the danger.

Alex: Has there been an honest environmental study done to show how all of these factors would impact the area?

Irene: Both the Lawyer for the developer and the Save Red Rock people showed evidence and studies for the environmental impact, and of course both showed very different data. So the next steps for re-zoning would be for the company to show more studies on what their plan would do to impact the area. One of the things the Save Red Rock people are doing with donations is trying to have more studies done; call bs on what the developers are bringing to the table.

Alex: Well all of that information puts me at a bit more ease. From the volatility of the internet, I expecting the news to be far worse.

Irene: It’s definitely not over! We lost a battle, but we can still win the war. There are still ways to stop what they are doing. This was just an opportunity for us to nip it in the bud. The vote wasn’t even close and that was disheartening. There were far more people against than for, and the couple pro people made their points on how the project would bring in jobs and stimulate the local economy, but what they failed to realize is the huge amount of empty homes already filling up area. Filling up the area with more high dollar homes would only cause the real estate in the area to plummet even more.

Alex: I totally see why it’s picking up speed, it’s the potential to make money. Now, I don’t at all want to talk politics, I would never call myself an expert on the political machine, but this does feel like we’re on a presuppose of sorts. The last presidency seemed to have a lot more stake in our environment and conservation efforts. This seems to be a scary time for nature.

Irene: Absolutely, I think that’s why so many people got passionate about it, because it’s time for us to push and have our voices heard. People are waking up and realizing that we need to make sure that what we want to preserve is fought for. Things aren’t totally in our favor right now, so we need to do everything we can.

Alex: – It seems there’s a passing of the torch going on right now. The older generation is getting tired and us younger players are beginning to see that conservation doesn’t just happen on its own.

Irene: Totally, we want to preserve. I have friends with young children who want to make sure these wilderness spaces are there when they grow up. In only a few years this community could completely change the landscape and this serene patch of nature might not be the same when they’re finally old enough to enjoy it. Projects like this are just a step in the wrong direction.

Alex:  So then, from an outsider’s stand point, what are things people on the outside can do to help?

Irene: I think by spreading awareness. Reaching out to people you might know in the area and educating them on what’s going on. Have them sign the petition. I know there is also a donation portion of SaveRedRock.com if you wish to contribute that way. They have been the real frontrunners on this. Also, take a look at your own area. Take a look at your own public spaces and see what you can do locally to make yourself aware.

You heard her! Visit SaveRedRock.com for more information about what’s going on, or to find ways to get involved!

Big thanks to Irene Yee for taking some time out to catch us outsiders up to speed!

You can follow Irene on instagram @LadyLockoff and Save Red Rock at @save_red_rock