Scenic land could become open space
But subdivision in the works if city, church can’t come to terms
A scenic property of nearly 50 acres adjoining Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Section 16 is up for sale.
Bethany Baptist Church, a Westside church which has owned the property for about 40 years, is offering it first to the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program.
However, if a deal with TOPS cannot be worked out, the church has an agreement with a land development company that has drawn up preliminary plans for a housing subdivision there.
The property is in a prominent location west of 26th Street at the intersection with Gold Camp Road, Wheeler Street and Bear Creek Road. Abutting Red Rock Canyon to the north and Section 16 to the west, the land rises to a sandstone hogback. Additional White Acres property on the other side of the hogback provides views of Red Rock and Section 16, plus a well-used social trail.
“This trail, which mostly follows a historic trail, connects the Lion Trail in Red Rock Canyon Open Space to the Section 16 Trail (Palmer Red Rock Loop) and the Meadow Red Rock Loop in Section 16,” according to the Friends of Red Rock Canyon website (redrockcanyonopenspace.org). Containing details about the property's history, geology, trails and visibility as a foothills backdrop, the website adds the opinion that “White Acres has significant intrinsic value as open space, and its strategic location adjacent to Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Section 16 gives it special importance as part of a larger whole.”
According to Chris Lieber, City Parks' manager of development, TOPS is looking at the property (through a city-appointed group called the TOPS working committee) after a request this May from Don Ellis, a Friends board member.
“We're not sure where it's going to take us at this point, but the TOPS committee has said this could be a good fit with Section 16 and Red Rock Canyon,” Lieber summarized in a recent interview. “I want to emphasize that it's early in the process. We're taking a good look at it, and hopefully something will be possible.”
He could not say how long the process would take.
TOPS money comes from a one-cent sales tax approved by voters for trails and open space development. Its funds were tapped to help the city buy 790-acre Red Rock Canyon from the Bock family in 2003, and will be again for 640-acre Section 16 (now leased by the city) in 2010, according to TOPS plans.
No asking price has been announced. Ron Holladay, who is the church's moderator (similar to a chairman), said the church “is seeking no more than a fair price” - but one that weighs in its potential value if it were subdivided. At the same time, he said that most of the church's 80-some members would prefer to see it remain as open space. “We're not greedy developers trying to wring what we can from it,” he said. “We live in this community.”
The property was deeded to the church in the late 1960s by the family of Chloe and Pearl White, who had acquired it in the 1930s, lived in Bear Creek Canyon from 1935 to 1955 and built the house that's still by the road at 1680 S. 26th Street.
Ellis, who grew up in Bear Creek Canyon, remembers Chloe White as a “very gentle, white haired man” who mainly used the property as a horse pasture.
Merrilyn Caduff, a life-long Westsider who was the Whites' niece, said she rode horseback up there as a child, enjoying the remains of stone quarries, Indian battlements and even fossils. The intent of donating the land, she recalled, was that it “be kept in the church as a place for refuge and outings and picnic areas.”
To that end, over the years, church members built a pavilion on the lower part of the property and a dirt road to it from Gold Camp Road. A locked gate limits use of the access.
Clint Tafoya, a teen pastor at an eastside church who has rented the house from Bethany for the past eight years, said he has heard stories that the Whites wanted the land to be a place for teenagers. One story was that Mrs. White would leave the key to the gate where the church's teens could find it, so they could go up there any time they wanted.
Bethany Baptist has changed since the Whites' time. A church which once had around 1,000 members dropped to well under 100 until a recent resurgency with a new pastor, Holladay said. “That's why the financial situation is so bad.” And, time has begun taking its toll on the sizeable, 1950s-era church buildings. “There's been deferred maintenance for years,” he said.
This is not the first time the church has put the property on the market, as the Friends website notes. But this time is different, in that the Infinity Land Corporation has become what Holladay describes as a “partner” in the effort. This has included covering the church's up-front costs in marketing the property and (potentially) planning a housing development. The idea is that Infinity would eventually profit from its efforts when the property is sold, Holladay explained.
Todd Evans, Infinity's vice-president of development described White Acres as “a unique piece of property.” He said the company has been studying the property in terms of development, including informal meetings with city officials, but is not pushing for that result. “The important thing from our perspective is that we're in full support of the TOPS process,” he said. “We're doing everything we can to assist that.”
Should a TOPS deal prove unworkable, Infinity has shown plans (dated from last November) to the TOPS working committee that call for 31 lots, including 16 patio homes in the lower area (the old house not among them) and larger lots on either side of the hogback. Evans emphasized that current plans are preliminary, but said that - despite the challenges of annexing the property, building roads, extending utility services and dealing with the the hilly terrain - “development-wise, it's doable.”
Holladay said the church would like the old house to stay, but wouldn't want that to be a sticking point in negotiations. If TOPS buys the property, Lieber said the city would prefer that it not be part of the sale.
In the past, Tafoya has used the property for teen retreats for True Life (inviting any teens from Bethany to come as well), but because of the future uncertainty he has canceled the three retreats he had scheduled this summer, he said.
The opportunity to rent the house (and also serve as White Acres caretaker), came to Tafoya eight years ago through a connection between people at his church (True Life) and Bethany.
He likes living there and was even willing to buy the house until the church discovered that the property would have to be subdivided - an expensive proposition - before that could happen. No matter what takes place, he said, “it's been a blessing living here.”
Caduff said she hopes her aunt and uncle's former land stays untouched. “I would hate to see it go into a subdivision,” she said. “I would certainly be appalled and crushed if it went the way of so many other properties here.”
Westside Pioneer article