Summerlin – And the Living Is Easy
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
As you might expect, given that my last article here was a paean to vintage neighborhoods of Las Vegas, I personally am not a great fan of “master-planned communities.” Frankly, the prospect of giving a homeowners’ association authority over me and my house makes me shudder. And when I visit a gated community, I feel trapped when the gate swings shut behind me. So I expected that this article about Summerlin, the mother of all master-planned communities in Vegas, would inevitably take on a somewhat snarky tone. But after spending some time learning about the 22,500-acre community that lies to the west of the city, I now understand its appeal. Summerlin doesn’t offer the general coolness of a vintage neighborhood like Paradise Palms, my future home, but it does offer plenty of other amenities.
Summerlin lies along the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley and borders Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Summerlin Parkway leads into the oldest section of the community. This area lies within the Las Vegas city limits, bordered on the north by Cheyenne Avenue, with parts extending as far east as Buffalo Drive. But Summerlin has also spread south along the western side of Hualapai Way, and a future village is planned for south of the beltway. Summerlin was developed by what is now known as the Howard Hughes Corp. In fact, it was named for the eccentric millionaire’s paternal grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin, though the name was chosen by marketers long after Hughes’ death in 1976.
The community reflects the meticulous long-range planning that is shown in much of the Howard Hughes Corp.’s endeavors. Land purchases in Red Rock Canyon, later swapped with the federal government for the site of the community, began many decades ago but building didn’t start until the late 1980s, in Sun City Summerlin. In 1991, the first residents moved into Summerlin proper. Additional villages have been added over the years – some gated, some not – and full build-out is expected around 2020. Summerlin currently has more than 40,000 homes, with approximately 80,000 expected when build-out is complete. The population is also expected to double from its current number of 97,500.
Because additional villages are planned, brand-new houses are still available, including green homes complete with solar panels. There are plenty of resale homes available, too, and with more than 150 bank-owned properties on the market, there are bargains to be found. And because it is a mature community, Summerlin offers an infrastructure that younger suburbs cannot yet claim. In fact, when I asked residents why they chose to live in Summerlin, I received a fairly consistent response: Everything they need is here.
The abundance of parks is another feature mentioned by nearly every Summerlin resident with whom I spoke. Red Rock is right next door; there are many playgrounds and picnic areas; and the community parks offer such athletic amenities as soccer and softball fields. Unlike many other Vegas suburban parks, most Summerlin parks also honor the desert in which they exist. Native plants, in natural-looking placements, fill these spaces without importation of the water-desperate grasses found in wetter climates back East. Those who long for the green, green grass of home can get that here, too – on one of Summerlin’s nine golf courses. Add to those features the approximately 150 miles of walking and biking trails, and you’ll understand Summerlin’s outdoorsy appeal.
The strong sense of community that exists in Summerlin is fostered by the Summerlin Council, which coordinates annual communitywide events as well as classes and activities at three community centers. Annual events include an Easter egg hunt, a Fourth of July parade, and a pumpkin festival. Class offerings include arts and crafts, music, dance, dog training and personal enrichment. There are even summer camp programs for kids. All residents of Summerlin are kept informed of what’s happening with a monthly newsletter called Summerlines.
With age and population come many worthy institutions. For example, there are more churches per capita in Summerlin than in any other part of the Vegas Valley, and schools are plentiful, too; 11 public schools, 11 private schools and seven child care facilities all fall within Summerlin’s boundaries. In fact, Bishop Gorman High School, a venerable Las Vegas prep school, recently moved its campus to Summerlin. Another prep school well known in Vegas, The Meadows School, actually predates Summerlin by a few years. The Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, a recent recipient of a Consumer Choice Award from the National Research Corporation, provides medical care.
As for entertainment, nearby Suncoast Casino has long been a local favorite for gaming and other fun, while posh resort amenities are available at JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa and at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa. The latter also has a 16-screen movie theater and 72 lanes of bowling. Culture thrives here, too, with outdoor concerts offered at The Hills Center amphitheater and plays at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center. The Nevada Ballet Theatre also makes its home in Summerlin, at the Donald W. Reynolds Cultural Center.
All the usual chain restaurants have locations in Summerlin, and there are some local treasures, as well. One foodie I know recommends Vintner Grill. And of course Café Bleu, at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School, is always a possibility.
Chris Shouse, a real estate agent and eight-year resident of Summerlin, loves the community so much that she’s made it the focus her blog Real Summerlin. Her opinion: “Summerlin is as close as you can get to hometown living in the desert.”
Summerlin does, indeed, have just about everything anyone needs in a hometown. It appears to be more than a “master-planned” community. Perhaps “masterfully planned” community is a better description.