Pardee Homes gives up land in long-stalled Coyote Springs project

Courtesy of Coyote Springs

Coyote Springs Golf Course is the only completed element of the 43,000-acre Coyote Springs project.

Defense attorney John Arrascada, left, with Harvey Whittemore at his side talks to the media after Whittemore's arraignment Thursday, June 7, 2012, in Reno.

Defense attorney John Arrascada, left, with Harvey Whittemore at his side talks to the media after Whittemore's arraignment Thursday, June 7, 2012, in Reno.

Coyote Springs, the stalled mega-development launched by disgraced lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, now has even slimmer odds that homes will sprout after an unlikely owner took charge of some of the property.

Pardee Homes, the project’s lead residential builder, recently gave up control of roughly 2,500 acres there to its former parent, timber dealer Weyerhaeuser Co., amid a corporate buyout.

Weyerhaeuser this month sold its homebuilding division to Tri Pointe Homes of Irvine, Calif., in a $2.8 billion deal. The division included Pardee, one of the valley’s largest builders.

Pardee began assembling land at Coyote Springs — 60 miles north of the Strip — during the bubble last decade but didn’t build a single house, said Klif Andrews, Las Vegas division president.

In late June, about a week before the Tri Pointe sale closed, Weyerhaeuser’s corporate offices took control of the property, county records show.

Andrews signed off on the deal and confirmed that Pardee transferred the land.

Keeping a few thousand acres in the middle of nowhere in the Nevada desert, in a busted project whose land surely plunged in value since the boom years, seems like a head-scratcher for Weyerhaeuser.

But perhaps no one else wanted the property.

“They bought it and can’t get rid of it,” said Dennis Smith, president of Las Vegas-based Home Builders Research. “Who’s going to buy it?”

Weyerhaeuser, with a stock market value of $19 billion, is based in Washington state and owns or controls nearly 7 million acres of timberlands. It sells raw timber; wood products such as plywood and hardwood lumber; and cellulose fibers like fluff pulp and liquid packaging board.

Persuading a builder to take the Nevada property off its hands seems impossible, too.

During the housing bubble, developers, backed by easy financing, set out to build massive residential projects in rural areas an hour or more from Las Vegas, including in Pahrump and in Golden Valley, Ariz. But many of those projects flopped when the economy collapsed, with developers quitting mid-construction or not building homes at all.

Today, Las Vegas’ homebuilding sector has recovered from the depths of the recession, but it’s not booming. Moreover, practically all home construction in Southern Nevada is in the Las Vegas Valley, not in sparsely populated or uninhabited fringes such as Coyote Springs.

“The water rights are the most valuable thing out there,” Smith said.

Weyerhaeuser spokesman Greg Miller said he is not aware of any plans for the land, and he could not confirm why the company wanted it.

Tri Pointe spokeswoman Carol Ruiz was unaware of the property and would not immediately comment.

Asked if any homes are planned for the area, Emilia Cargill, general counsel for Coyote Springs project developer Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Co., said her group is waiting for infrastructure to be completed. But, she added, that work is subject to litigation, and she can’t comment on the group’s legal cases.

At around 43,000 acres, roughly twice the size of Summerlin, Coyote Springs called for 159,000 homes and a dozen or so golf courses, as well as retail, schools and emergency services.

Whittemore, a once-powerhouse lobbyist in Carson City, reportedly bought the property, which straddles Clark and Lincoln counties, in 1998. He brought in other investors, including businessmen brothers Thomas Seeno and Albert Seeno Jr., but the project went nowhere.

Besides site work such as utilities, the only thing built at Coyote Springs is a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, which opened in 2008. Satellite imagery online shows dozens of undeveloped residential lots on the course and little else.

Whittemore sold his stake in Wingfield in 2010, and a few years later, he and his former partners sued each other over the project with accusations of embezzlement, racketeering and extortion, according to news reports. They settled out of court.

A federal grand jury, meanwhile, indicted Whittemore in June 2012 on charges that he funneled illegal campaign donations to a member of Congress — later identified as Sen. Harry Reid — and lied to FBI agents about it. He also was accused of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission.

Last year, a jury found him guilty on three of four counts, and a judge sentenced him to two years in prison and fined him $100,000.

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