Speaker's Commission
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City May Convert Parkland

By Charles F. Bostwick
Staff Writer

Los AngelesDaily News

June 9, 2001

LANCASTER -- City officials are prepared to slice off more than five acres of Lancaster City Park and use it for a shopping center if that's what it takes to keep the Costco warehouse store.

City officials are considering taking the park's southwest corner and using it with adjoining vacant land for a commercial development that they won't identify, but which fits the scope of the Costco expansion that the city has been trying for years to expedite.

"That park is the jewel of the park system of the city of Lancaster," Mayor Frank Roberts said. "If we do anything at all we're not going to damage that park. We're not going to cause it to be less than attractive."

But at least two former mayors are against the plan, saying Lancaster has too little park space already and that there are plenty of other places to build a store.

"There's certain things that are sacrosanct -- one of those is parks," said former Mayor George Root, who was on the council from 1990 to 1994.

Tim Hayers, a councilman from 1977 to 1982 and mayor in 1981-82, noted that the parkland that could be lost is nearly as big as 6.7-acre Jane Reynolds Park downtown.

Hayes added: "I think the most disturbing thing is their official silence."

The plan was discovered by a woman who was walking her dog through the park last month and noticed a white line painted across the grass in the southern end of the 70-acre park, just short of the southernmost softball field fences, and yellow marks on trees.

Robin Collins said she asked a park gardener, then other city employees, and was told that in fact the line represented the limit of land the city was considering using for the Costco store.

She was told the area extends 217 feet into the park and is 1,220 feet wide, covering about six acres.

The area has a picnic site, more than 100 mature trees and a grassy space popular for informal soccer games and is popular among people walking their dogs, Collins said.

"This is a very popular area. It's a very peaceful area of the park," Collins said.

Since making the discovery, she's been rounding up people to attend the 7 p.m. June 18 Planning Commission meeting at City Hall at which the shopping center plan is scheduled to be considered.

The plan, submitted by the city's redevelopment agency, calls for a 150,000-square-foot commercial building, a 2,500-square-foot fast-food restaurant and a 12-pump gasoline station.

City officials say they can't identify the business proposed for the center, or disclose how much parkland might be used, because they have not yet signed an agreement with the company. One city official said the land in question is slightly more than five acres.

Disclosing negotiating points could hurt the city's bargaining position, they say.

The site was picked by the company, and the parkland is needed to meet its requirements.

"Otherwise we wouldn't do it," City Manager James Gilley said.

While refusing to identify the company, the mayor said the city needs the sales tax revenue. A store of the size proposed could provide $400,000 a year to the city treasury, he said.

No other site was acceptable to the company, Roberts said.

"Everything was tried," he said.

The mayor added that the city is developing the 25-acre Whit Carter Park on Sierra Highway south of Avenue H, and has plans for two others in the northeastern part of the city and at the present Antelope Valley Fairgrounds.

"We're going to have lots of parks," Roberts said.

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