Were there unseen hands at work behind the City’s approval of the expansion of the Crazy Horse Too?
By Las Vegas Tribune staff
At one time, the city of Las Vegas Planning and Development Department had a standardized procedure that city planners followed prior to the granting of building permits. Up until recently a project could not be started prior to the issuance of a number of permits and the orderly fulfillment of a number of requirements. Up until recently all applicants for building permits had to fulfill the same requirements -- and fulfill them in the same order. This is no longer the case since the recent expansion of the Crazy Horse Too topless bar. Now a business does not need to fulfill parking, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, setback, landscape or sidewalk requirements in the city of Las Vegas.
The Crazy Horse Too located just under the Sahara overpass on Industrial Road, just a stones throw away from a residential neighborhood, recently added a 6000 square foot addition increasing the interior space of the business to a total of 26,000 square feet. The expansion took place in a way that was previously unheard of.
Prior to the recent Crazy Horse Too expansion project, any other business would have had to satisfy the letter of the law requiring that an applicant submit a site plan showing existing interior and exterior dimensions of the project, required setbacks, proposed landscaping, existing and proposed regular and handicapped parking, vehicular engress and egress plans, and artist’s renderings showing how the project will look from the street when completed.
Prior to the Crazy Horse Too expansion, any other business would have had to submit mechanical, plumbing, electrical, structural, roof, and air conditioning plans that were stamped by an engineer and architect. The engineer and architect must be in good standing with the City Licensing Department. The Crazy Horse Too evidently submitted unsigned, unstamped, incomplete drawings that did not show existing and planned parking improvements, landscaping, setbacks, elevations, and interior and exterior site plans, but yet they were still allowed to expand their building.
Before the latest Crazy Horse Too example, an applicant had to prove that the planned project would provide adequate numbers of parking spaces for the employees and patrons based on the projected fire capacity of the building. To the dismay of many neighboring businesses and residences, the Crazy Horse Too provides only a total of 130 parking spaces for employees and patrons and claim that they have a fire capacity of only 109 persons though the club advertises that they employ over 400 persons. A 26,000 square foot public building would usually have a fire capacity of over 900 persons and require at least 300 on site parking spaces and 6 double wide handicapped spaces.
The club’s listing of only 130 on site available parking spaces in their application is apparently causing the remaining cars to be parked away from the property throughout the adjoining residential neighborhood, on sidewalks, or on private property nearby. Upon recent inspection, limousines and taxicabs were occupying the 2 handicap spaces provided and were also parked on the public sidewalk in front of the club. Even more bizarre is their apparent listing of a fire capacity of only 109 persons for their 26,000 square feet. Something is obviously wrong with the City’s approval of this expansion!
Did the City Planning Department staff investigate the quantity of parking being added prior to permitting the expansion? Apparently not. Did the planners require that the drawings and plans being submitted have proper stamps from licensed structural engineers or be stamped by licensed architects? Apparently not. Did the planners check the occupancy capacity listed by the applicant to see if it was realistic? Apparently not. But the most important question is why did the planners ignore the club’s very close proximity to a high density, low-income residential neighborhood where there are more than 1000 school age children living?
The expansion application of the Crazy Horse Too went to the Board of Zoning Adjustment on January 5, with the recommendation for approval by the City Planning and Development Department Director, a hand picked appointee of Mayor Jones. She made her recommendation in spite of all of the above inadequacies and concerns of the residential neighbors. The Board members, all appointed by the City Council, passed the application handily. Many protesters stated afterward that they were discouraged from attending because of the wording on official notices and the meeting agendas written in capitol letters stating that the application was "WHERE SUCH IS NOT ALLOWED." They believed that the Council would therefore automatically deny the request. They were wrong.
How did this radical change in the city’s standard building permitting procedure come about? Several unusual things happened prior to and during the expansion of the Crazy Horse Too. For instance, last year City Councilman Michael McDonald went on a crusade to close down several adult orientated businesses including a 6000 square foot bookstore located adjacent to the Crazy Horse Too. Councilman McDonald is known to be a close friend of the Crazy Horse Too owner. Coincidentally, the bookstore that McDonald closed down is the same space the club is now using for their expansion. At the February 8, City Council appeal of the January 5, approval of the expansion, Councilman McDonald abstained during the entire 2-hour hearing.
Despite McDonald’s silence on the issue, one of his two city-paid aides Doug Rankin personally accompanied Crazy Horse Too attorneys to the January 5, hearing. On the Friday following the hearing McDonald was reported having made several calls to Henderson resident David Beamis whom originally appealed the approval of the expansion. It was not determined as to what McDonald’s reasons for calling the appellate were as Mr. Beamis was in the hospital at the time of the calls.
Despite McDonald’s silence at the hearing, he was quoted after the Council approval in the Las Vegas Sun as saying "There is really no evidence that these adult businesses are causing major problems in the neighborhood. Let’s face it, the area is zoned industrial. There are warehouses and all kinds of things near those apartments that people may object to." This statement clearly contradicts statements made by Councilman McDonald earlier regarding his efforts to close different adult orientated businesses located near residential neighborhoods in other parts of the city. Also, his comparison of warehouses and a topless bar made no sense.
In addition to questions about Michael McDonald’s friendship with the club’s owner, his abstention, and his staff’s possible assistance in the permitting process, Mayor Jan Jones’ attendance at several social events hosted by the owner of the Crazy Horse at his home did not go unnoticed. During the City Council appeal hearing, David Beamis requested that Jones also abstain due to her friendship with the topless club owner. Jones angrily refused and went on to say that the parties she attended were "attended by every politician in town." She then went on to hold up a copy of the Las Vegas Tribune and name Tribune columnist Steve Miller as the cause of Mr. Beamis’ request for her abstention based on what she called Beamis’ "association with Steve Miller, the landlord of another topless club." At that point she cut Mr. Beamis off.
Following Beamis, several Meadows Village property owners testified. They were also criticized by Jones, and abruptly cut off. One protester faced the wrath of Jones’ appointed Director of the Neighborhood Services Department, Sharon Segerbloom. Ms. Segerbloom spoke at the demand of Jones and severely chastised the protester for the alleged condition of her Meadows Village property. After the meeting, Segerbloom was observed by several witnesses who told the Tribune that she used the expression "f _ _ _ you" in response to a comment from another Meadows Village property owner. This alleged exchange took place just outside the Council Chambers.
The remaining three Councilmen were left with the dubious responsibility of making the decision whether to allow what is "NOT ALLOWED" -- already built -- and open to the public. Councilmen Arnie Adamson, Larry Brown, and Gary Reese seemed stunned by what they had heard up until that time. They appeared to have been manipulated into the contemptuous position they were in. Would they deny Crazy Horse Too the approval it so coveted and cost the owner an alleged $800,000 in construction costs? Would the three Councilmen defy the now very emotional Jan Jones who seemed intent to gain approval for the expansion of the topless bar? Or would the Councilmen require that the City Attorney force the Planning Department to investigate the application and confirm whether it was properly applied for and permitted in the first place?
Also unusual was the fact that at no time during the heated deliberations did the Mayor or Council ask to see the site plans, interior and exterior drawings, landscaping plans, traffic studies, artist’s renderings, or inquire about the required setbacks. At no time did they inquire about the blatant lack of parking facilities and use of the public sidewalk as a parking lot. At no time did they inquire about the effect such an expansion of an adult orientated business would have on the quality of life of the children living a block away.
The Council, in the absence of Michael McDonald, and with the uncommonly enthusiastic support of their Mayor who normally detests such businesses, along with encouragement from the Planning Director, rushed to vote to approve the expansion of the Crazy Horse Too. It was approved by unanimous vote with McDonald abstaining. Their inexplicable actions in approving the expansion of a topless bar after it had already expanded begged the question of whether there were unseen hands at work at the February 8, meeting of the Las Vegas City Council.
If the three Las Vegas City Council members unwittingly experienced behind the scene manipulation by political forces known only to them, then they deserve to be given another opportunity to correct the bizarre and unjust situation that occurred.
In 1991, Mayor Jan Jones criticized the owner of the Girls of Glitter Gulch on Fremont Street when he tried to expand his business. At that time Jones remarked that the Fremont Street Experience was a "family" destination and such an expansion would be inappropriate for downtown’s "family type" atmosphere. What has happened since to cause Jones to have such a turnaround of attitude? Especially this time when a topless club has expanded less than 300 feet from an apartment house full of small children?
And for Councilman McDonald, he rightfully fumed when an adult orientated business recently opened across from the Red Rock Theatre where many children are present. Now he is mysteriously turning his back on the Meadows Village children who are being forced to live so close to what McDonald is suddenly describing as "no evidence that these adult businesses are causing major problems in the neighborhood."
Do Councilmen Adamsen, Brown, and Reese really deserve to individually take the blame for what may, or may not, be the powers of political manipulation behind this story? Time will tell if one or all of them have the courage to order the City Attorney to review the actions of the Planning and Development Department.
Will Councilman Larry Brown who seemed to be the most curious inquisitor at the hearing be interested enough in this apparition that he will order a complete in depth investigation of all of the circumstances leading to the approval of the expansion? For the sake of the credibility of the City’s planning and development process, Councilman Brown should respond immediately.
With this example set by the city’s allowance of the expansion of the Crazy Horse Too --after the fact -- and "WHERE SUCH IS NOT ALLOWED," it is only natural that other businesses will also want to take advantage of this display of lax controls and neglect of city and state law. If Councilmen Adamsen, Brown, and Reese do not take remedial action immediately, other businesses will also be able to scoff at our planning and zoning laws and build expansions while ignoring the need for proper applications, plans, setbacks, parking, engineering, and architectural design of their project. They will feel that they can also expand their businesses at will using the Crazy Horse example as their defense.