COYOTE SPRINGS, Nev. (AP) — A dozen years ago, lobbyist-turned-developer Harvey Whittemore unveiled plans to turn a huge swath of the southern Nevada desert 50 miles north of Las Vegas into the state’s largest master-planned community.

But not a single house has been built.

The 43,000-acre Coyote Springs development straddling Lincoln and Clark counties has stalled amid ownership changes, lawsuits and a slow economy, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Whittemore has been ousted from Coyote Springs by his own business partners, brothers Thomas and Albert Seeno, who took control of two-thirds of his company, Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Co.

The Seenos earlier this year sued Whittemore, claiming he embezzled and misappropriated more than $40 million from the company, including money for private jet flights, parties and personal home improvement projects.

Whittemore responded with a lawsuit of his own against the Seenos, alleging they defrauded him through the holding company.

Last year, the Seenos sued home-building partner Pardee Homes, accusing it of stalling and reneging on its agreement with Whittemore to prepare the land for construction.

Whittemore has been accused of using his cozy relationships with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other officials to overcome environmental challenges and regulations for the project.

A federal grand jury is currently investigating whether Whittemore illegally funneled tens of thousands of dollars to congressional campaigns, including to that of Reid. Reid and other members of Nevada’s delegation have since donated Whittemore’s contributions to charity.

In Lincoln County, dreams of a big new city in the desert have given way to more modest ambitions. Officials in the rural county now hope to see a solar power plant or industrial development spring up on their side of the line.

Lincoln Commissioner Ed Higbee said he would be surprised if Coyote Springs ever lives up to Whittemore’s grandiose vision of boasting enough schools, shopping centers, parks and other amenities to support more than 150,000 homes.

“I think the hopes and expectations are greatly whittled back,” he told the Review-Journal.

But Lincoln Commissioner Tommy Rowe hasn’t given up on the residential side of the development.

“It might take 20 or 30 years, but I think it’ll happen,” Rowe said. “People are still being born, and they’re going to need houses to live in.”

Real estate consultant John Restrepo said it will take a dramatic recovery in the region’s housing market and economy for the project to have a chance. Nevada has the nation’s highest foreclosure and unemployment rates.

“It’s going to be many, many years in my opinion. It’ll be at least 10 years,” Restrepo said. “We all think in our guts that southern Nevada is going to come back, but not the economy on steroids that we saw. I think it will be a more moderate growth pattern.”

Reid is still bullish on Coyote Springs.

“I think it will happen. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It’s a great project.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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