COLUMN: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
December 13, 2000
Property owners near the expanded Crazy Horse Too are still questioning whether the circumstances leading up to last year's approval -- after the fact -- of the topless club's 6000 square foot expansion are related to the sudden lifestyle change of Councilman Michael McDonald?
Soon after the questioned expansion, McDonald began wearing a diamond Rolex watch valued at over $20,000; began driving a new Lincoln Navigator; and took up residence in a half-million dollar villa owned by the mother-in-law of a business partner of Rick Rizzolo, the owner of the Crazy Horse.
Bobette Lee Taylor, the wife of businessman Tony Tegano, owns the house located in the Canyon Gate Country Club that was occupied, up until last month, by McDonald. The house was a few blocks from Rizzolo's residence. Tegano is the father in law of Joey Cusamano who is listed in Nevada's Black Book of excluded persons. Cusamano is known to be a close associate of Rick Rizzolo, the owner of the Crazy Horse Too.
McDonald refused to state what he paid to lease the 2,300 square foot Italian style villa only to say; "I pay my fair share." McDonald makes $37,000 per year as a City Councilman and $52,000 as a salesman for Las Vegas Color Graphics. He also has received several settlements from slip and fall lawsuits he filed. Real estate experts estimate that the house he occupied should rent for between $3,000 and $4,000 per month not including utilities and homeowner's association fees.
Property owners near the Crazy Horse Too reportedly believe that the house is a payback for favors resulting in the post-approval of the club's expansion plans.
In Rizzolo's case, even with the full knowledge that the Nevada Department of Transportation planned to take all of the parking spaces in front of his Crazy Horse Too and the majority of spaces in an adjacent lot located under the Sahara overpass for the widening of Industrial Rd., the Las Vegas City Council waived normally required parking and traffic studies and allowed his expansion to take place.
This unprecedented action has resulted in a lawsuit by Meadows Village property owners led by Peter Christoff. Through their attorney they claim that the enlarged business does not have adequate parking and adversely impacts the nearby low-income residential neighborhood with overflow parking and crime.
At the February 8, 1999, council hearing when the expansion was approved, several protesters accused former Mayor Jones and Councilman Michael McDonald of doing Crazy Horse Too owner Frederick Rizzolo a political favor by allowing the expansion.
Jones and McDonald are often seen at social functions held at Rizzolo's Canyon Gate home, and when this fact was made known by protesters, Jones and McDonald became visibly angry.
Sources inside city hall report that Doug Rankin, an assistant to Councilman McDonald, "Walked through" the topless club's application in the city Public Works Department. Rankin was also seen sitting in the audience with associates of Rizzolo at the initial Planning Commission hearing in early 1999. The Mayor and Council appoint members of the Planning Commission.
It is customary that an NDOT road-widening plan be included in the backup information provided to councilmembers prior to a vote for an expansion that would necessitate additional parking -- in this instance it was conspicuously omitted.
"Walk through" is a term used when a councilmember or one of his staff accompanies a developer through the application phase of a project. This practice, though not illegal, is considered improper and shows favoritism. "Walk throughs" are legally tolerated but usually are looked upon as favors being given to selected political campaign contributors or cronies. The practice should be outlawed!
In the case of expansions of similar business, the businesses are required to submit traffic and parking studies, site plans, artist's renderings of elevations, and stamped architectural plans. Careful investigation failed to locate any such documents for Rizzolo's project.
Reno attorney Glade Hall representing the adjacent property owners stated in his complaint: "On or about December 15.1998 the Crazy Horse Too filed an application to the City of Las Vegas Board of Zoning Adjustment for a variance to allow the expansion of a non-Conforming sexually oriented business where that expansion is explicitly prohibited. At the time of such application the expansion for which approval was sought, had already been Constructed, apparently with the consent of officers and employees of the City of Las Vegas."
Hall goes on to state: "The applicant failed to provide landscaping plans, adjacent land uses and streets, property lines,
elevations, and other necessary items. The site and floor plans that were provided are unsigned and undated copies that no engineer or architect apparently wished to take credit for."
Further on in the complaint it states: "The Nevada Department of Transportation was in the process of designing a street widening project that would take approximately 20 feet of space from the front of the lot on which the Crazy Horse Too conducts its business, resulting in the further loss of parking and access space. When petitioner and his attorney attempted to address these parking and traffic concerns, they were advised by Mayor Jan Jones that such issues were not going to be discussed and that attempts at such discussion was out of order, thereby denying Petitioner's due process rights. Respondents did not require Crazy Horse Too to prepare and submit with the subject application traffic and parking studies which Respondents invariably require other applicants to prepare and submit."
Another lawsuit was filed by a neighboring business alleging "Racketeering" involving Rizzolo and his landlord Renate Schiff. Rizzolo and Schiff unsuccessfully attempted to evict the neighboring business to provide additional parking for the topless club. Both lawsuits are pending in District Court.
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner. He was also the author and sponsor of the City of Las Vegas Ethics in Government Law. Mr. Miller writes a weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune. Visit Steve's website at: http://www.SteveMiller4LasVegas.com