Nearly 100 at meeting on White Acres development

       Hard questions were asked and some of them were answered at a pre-application meeting for the conceptually proposed White Acres housing development Dec. 3 in the Midland Elementary gym.
       Among those unanswered were why City Council nixed purchasing the land for open space at an executive session in September and why Bethany Baptist Church is ready to develop land that had been donated to it half a century ago as a teen retreat.
       Of the 80 to 90 people at the meeting, there were two who might have answered these questions. But Councilman Tom Gallagher and Pastor Don Emanuel, respectively, chose not to speak up.
       The scenic hillside property consists of slightly under 50 acres south of Red Rock Canyon Open Space and west of the five-way intersection of 26th Street/Bear Creek Road, Wheeler Avenue and Gold Camp/Lower Gold Camp Road. The nearby area is lightly developed, except for the high-density Skyway Village off Lower Gold Camp.
       Preliminary plans have been described as 27 single family homes and, on the flatter land near the intersection, 16 to 22 attached housing units. The western 25 acres, including the property's sandstone cliffs and (farther west) its forested land nearest to Red Rock and the also-pristine Section 16, would probably remain as open space (although a full dedication has not been promised).
       Annexation to the city is also part of the proposed Infinity/Baptist deal with the city. If it remains as county land, the current zoning would allow lots no smaller than five acres, according to project consultant John Maynard. Whether in the city or county, the developer would have to pay to extend utilities to the site.
       Paul Howard, president of the Infinity Land Corp., which is planning the development, did most of the talking. One of his first comments was to say he agreed with the “Save White Acres” signs that were on display at the meeting. The problem, he explained, was that efforts to sell the land to the city for open space have not worked out, even though Infinity and Bethany were willing to take $1.375 million despite the property having been appraised at $2.1 million.
       But Howard's plea that the church is “struggling” with building-maintenance expenses was not convincing to everyone. One comment was that other churches don't have land to sell off but nonetheless find ways to deal with money issues. Jonathan Worth, a citizen in attendance, wondered out loud why the developer was taking 50 percent of any proceeds. He said that if Infinity stepped out of the picture the church could sell it to the city for half of $1.375 million - a more affordable figure - and make the same profit.
       Another citizen, Cyndi Kulp, scoffed at a Howard statement that he is ready to back out of development plans at any point if an open-space deal can be reached with the city. She said that sounded like “blackmail.” The land having been donated to the church, “I don't see how you can speculate on it,” she said. “I find that very distasteful.”
       Howard responded that he disagreed with her opinion, but added later that “if it sounded like blackmail, I apologize.”
       The purpose of the meeting, as explained by Maynard, was to bring up issues that ought to be considered in drawing up a formal development proposal.
       Such concerns included traffic, traditional trail connections through the property, its wildlife corridor, the viewscape and possible bird habitats. Others brought up general objections to the property being developed at all. One woman said she had collected 500 signatures against it. No citizen spoke in favor of building on White Acres.
       Applause followed some comments. Perhaps the loudest applause was given to Merrilyn Caduff, the niece of Chloe and Pearl White (from whom the property name comes). She had spent considerable time on the land as a child, she said, and called the issue “exceedingly emotional for me.” If the Whites, who have since passed on, were to see it turned into housing, “they would be devastated,” she said. “And so would I.”
       Howard concluded his comments with an appeal to those in attendance to also go to the next meeting of the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) working committee, to let the group see how many people want to save White Acres.
       He did not indicate when Infinity might come forward with a formal plan, but did say that he already feels as if “we wasted a lot of time” since November 2007 while waiting for the city to mull the open-space prospects.
       Maynard estimated the process could take yet another year.
       There was some confusion about what proposal had actually been in front of City Council in September. According to Howard, both the TOPS committee and Parks Advisory Board had recommended approval of the $1.375 million amount and council overrode them, but Lee Milner of the TOPS committee said his group had never taken a formal vote.

Westside Pioneer article