A District Court judge today allowed Station Casinos to proceed with its lawsuit against Henderson over a land-use decision involving the Roadhouse, a defunct casino on Boulder Highway slated for redevelopment.
However, Judge Gloria Sturman struck down one of Station’s three claims against the city involving an alleged violation of the state’s open meeting law. Station had no proof that the law was violated, she said, also finding that deposing city officials would have a chilling effect on the right of public officials to seek guidance from their attorneys.
The lawsuit could delay indefinitely a development that would yield millions of dollars in construction spending and at least 16 full-time construction jobs, a Roadhouse spokeswoman said.
Today’s two-hour hearing was a strongly worded showdown between one of Henderson’s largest employers and the city.
Station has accused city officials of breaking the law in granting competitor Roadhouse owner Robert McMackin approvals to develop the site. The casino giant also claims city officials met in secret, violating the open meeting law, to discuss turning down Station’s appeal of that decision. City Council members and staff have submitted sworn affidavits that no laws were violated.
“I’m a bit jaded when I hear a public official saying, ‘Trust us, we didn’t do anything wrong,’ ” Todd Bice, an attorney for Station Casinos, said at the hearing.
Attorneys for the city allege Station executives have harassed and intimidated city officials to get what they want.
“Sunset Station keeps ratcheting up the pressure on the city,” Henderson Senior Assistant City Attorney Christine Guerci-Nyhus said. “When they can’t get it through administratively they get it through litigation. Then they go to our staff members.”
After the city rejected Station’s appeal, one of the company’s lobbyists — a former city attorney for Henderson — met with Henderson’s assistant director of community development to encourage him to seek the advice of outside counsel. The attorney recommended by Station divulged confidential information to Bice after meeting with the Henderson official, attorneys for the city and McMackin say.
“He was intimidated … and made to believe his job was in jeopardy,” McMackin’s attorney, Nicholas Santoro, said. “This reeks.”
The Roadhouse first obtained a use permit in 1988. McMackin acquired the property in 1992, after a 1991 state law required that casinos with licenses allowing an unlimited number of slot machines must build at least 200 hotel rooms and other amenities. That law exempted older casinos so long as they keep permits current.
The original permit for the Roadhouse lapsed in 2006 after the city denied McMackin’s request for a two-year extension. But the city never revoked it, instead issuing temporary use permits intended to preserve McMackin’s grandfathered gaming license.
After determining that the original permit still existed, the city in November approved a design review application by McMackin to remodel the Roadhouse.
Station filed an appeal but the city rejected it, saying it was deficient. Station never appealed the denial to the Planning Commission.
The city claims Station didn’t exhaust its legal remedies to appeal the design review before filing suit and that the company could have corrected its appeal to include more relevant information.
But Station argued the city’s staff was wrong to reject the appeal without letting the Planning Commission hear it, suggesting that the city didn’t want to risk a difference of opinion by the commission. Also, the original use permit is invalid because it had lapsed, making the design review approval moot, the company said.
The city said Station has no legal standing to challenge the city’s land-use decision. The casino giant has no ownership interest in the Roadhouse and can’t point to any specific damage it might or will suffer as a result of the approved design review, city attorneys say.
The city favors the Roadhouse project because it will create jobs at a time when they are desperately needed, Santoro said. Station has succeeded, he said, in handcuffing the efforts of a developer who is ready to move forward.
“This is an attempt by Station to destroy competition,” he said.
“What this is really about is enforcing the rule of law,” Bice shot back.