Statement to the Town of Leeds—May 9, 2012
Grapevine Wash Owners Group
Mayor Roberts, members of the city council, town staff and neighbors, my name is Tracy Belliston and I am one of the principals of the Grapevine Wash Owners Group. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak directly to you on behalf of myself and the other owners about Grapevine Wash. Here present with me are…
My personal passion for this project began in the late summer of 2004 when I, along with my wife Jill, Bob and Teresa Andersen and others stood atop a ridge in the south east corner of this property. As I looked around and saw Zion’s to the East, Babylon Valley to the South and Pine Valley Mountain to the West; I turned to Jill and declared, “We should build a home for ourselves on this very spot, to which she enthusiastically agreed”. Our group made an offer and purchased 76 acres of this beautiful scenic land.
From the beginning, the objective of the Grapevine Wash Owners Group has been to build a community which everyone involved could be proud of. We have gone to great lengths, spent countless hours, and invested significant sums of money to design:
- A community that would attract quality residents, contribute to, and add value to the area;
- A community where people would enjoy a quality of life and environment that they couldn’t find just anywhere;
- A community that would be a desirable place to reside and raise a family or to retire and relax;
- A community that many would simply call home.
The Grapevine Owners joined together in 2007 and after careful consideration we employed the nationally recognized and highly reputable design firm “IBI Group”, headquartered in Salt Lake City, IBI had the experience, track record and capability to accomplish our objective.
In the Grapevine Master Plan it states our vision:
- Imagine a sustainable red rock community that…
- Thrives in and celebrates the color and beauty of the desert…
- Preserves and emphasizes the views for all to enjoy…
- Gives back to the environment in which it belongs by reducing energy and water consumption…
- Consists of walkable neighborhoods and centers that do not depend on the automobile for day to day living…
- Provides connected neighborhoods and parks and plazas that promote community and connection to the desert…
- Creates usable and enjoyable outdoor spaces for use all year long…
- Requires design that surpasses the mundane as vitality and environmental responsiveness is embraced in its physical form…
Imagine Grapevine Wash
With that vision in mind, we gave IBI a blank canvas with a request to design a community that conformed to our vision and they exceeded our expectations. We invite all to examine the Grapevine Wash Master Plan and see for themselves what is planned, and not rely solely on hearsay, gossip, misinformation and misrepresentation about the Grapevine development.
Unfortunately, there has been much said both publicly and anonymously about who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. Regrettably, much dialogue has been misinformed or intentionally misleading. Tonight we are grateful to have the opportunity to address some of the misinformation that has been circulating and express to everyone here (and for the record) our continued commitment to work cooperatively with the Town of Leeds to insure Grapevine Wash is a success and becomes a valuable asset to Leeds now and into the future.
First, we need to publicly rebut some very negative and untrue statements that have been made about us, and our representatives, over the past few weeks. On more than one occasion, in public meetings, in written statements, and through rumor and innuendo, it has been asserted that we have had undue, improper, even illegal influence over Town and County officials with respect to decisions that have been made regarding our project.
These assertions are utterly false and defamatory and we will vigorously defend ourselves against any such untruths. It is not our desire or intention to waste the Council’s time with discussion of these statements, but we need to make one point absolutely clear. The Grapevine Wash Owners Group had no relationship with Drake Howell during his employment with the Town of Leeds. Our first conversations with him about potentially working with us took place in April of 2010, a full five months after the annexation and development agreement was signed with the town, and after his position with the town had been reduced to part-time. Frankly, when Drake was on the Town staff, he was a zealous advocate for Leeds. In fact, it was Drake who imposed the additional requirements for final approval of our plan that we are addressing today. This was not a requirement when we initiated conversations with the Town many years ago.
It goes without saying that spreading false rumors is easy to do and very difficult to reverse. It’s like cutting open a down pillow, shaking it to the wind, and then trying to go out and collect every single feather. Unfortunately, there will be people who will be misinformed, and believe to be factual, blatant misrepresentations about Grapevine, its owners and the process we have undertaken to get to this point. Regrettably, we will be harmed without recourse or relief. Reckless negative statements about others in public, which have no basis in fact, are not only immoral, they are illegal.
We expect that most people know that defamation gives rise to a civil claim, but many probably don’t know that defamation is a crime under Utah law. We cannot accept criminal acts that harm our interests and we call on any person present tonight or otherwise who has made statements, for which they have no evidence, to retract them immediately. Spreading public and anonymous lies is not fair to us, it’s cowardly and it’s illegal. We have been trying to contact persons who have gone on public record with these defamatory statements to request a retraction. If necessary, we will pursue legal action to prevent this kind of unwarranted conduct.
Second, it has been implied that we have pursued this project clandestinely without input from, or notice to the public. That is absolutely not true! We have here, for anyone interested, a timeline that details the history of this project. Our individual owners have been discussing this ground with the Town of Leeds since the early 2000s, and we have been discussing this specific plan with the Town as a group since 2008. We (or our representatives) have appeared before the Town Council or Planning Commission in public settings, by our count over twenty five times, stretching back nearly a decade. We have been before four different Leeds mayors, four town planners and many different town council and planning commission members. Given this record, it is impossible to assert that this process was clandestine, if anything we have been extremely patient.
People should understand that when we purchased our property in Babylon Valley, it was not situated in Leeds; in fact, it was not even contiguous with Leeds. The Grapevine Wash Master Plan was created while our private property sat in unincorporated Washington County, with a buffer of BLM ground between us. Our intention was to find the best municipality with which to pursue our plan, and Leeds was our first (but certainly not the only) choice. When we first approached the Leeds Town Council with our plan in the summer 2008, we were completely forthright with what our intentions and vision were, and after months and months of public discussion, Leeds officials made the decision that they wanted Grapevine to be a part of the Town.
Upon annexing into the Town of Leeds in late 2009, we entered into an Annexation and Development Agreement with the town; that established our zoning and allowable densities, and approved our plan conceptually. Since then, we’ve been working with the Planning Commission and Town Council in public settings to meet the specific requirements set forth in the Annexation and Development Agreement for final approval. We remind the Town that the decision facing the Council is not a general referendum on the Grapevine Wash development, but rather the narrow question of whether or not we have met those requirements. We expect the Town Council to follow the agreed-upon process for final approval and look forward to addressing any conditions or questions you may have.
We are now approaching FIVE YEARS of public discussion on this specific project; it has always been an open process with full disclosure on our part and any contrary assertion is simply not true.
Third, there has been innuendo that we are a group of outsiders that is pursuing (and I quote from the website that has been established in this regard) a “monstrous development that will obliterate Leeds”. Let’s be very clear, Grapevine owners have strong ties to Utah and Washington County. I was born and raised in Nephi, my wife Jill is from Washington, I graduated from Dixie College and we hope to come back here to live someday. Our other owners live here in Washington County, have homes, or have family here. We are not some mysterious corporate conglomerate whose intent is to sweep in, hijack the town, make a huge profit and disappear never to be heard of again. We are property owners in Leeds, just like many of you here tonight, and we are entitled to the same rights and treatment under the law as you are.
It is important to note that if Grapevine is successful, there will be considerable benefits to the Town. First, there would be additional tax revenues from construction, commercial activity and property taxes. Second, there would be new job creation allowing people to both live and work here. Third, there would be greater access to the Babylon Valley for recreation. Fourth, there would be additional municipal benefits, including a potential site for a new town hall, elementary school, open market and health clinic. Fifth, there would be a potential long-term solution for the Town’s wastewater needs without requiring significant capital outlays for sewer connections. With everyone’s cooperation, Grapevine can be a catalyst for the sustainability of Leeds for the long term.
Will there be impacts from the development? Absolutely; and we are committed to addressing those impacts as part of this process. It has always been our position that we will bear our share of the impact that we create and not obligate Leeds to additional long term liabilities as asserted.
It seems to us that much of the concern expressed by the community in recent weeks stems from a fear that the character of Leeds will be altered overnight, threatening the quality and way of life of Leeds’ residents. Please allow us to make some clarifications.
It is very important to understand that the development of Grapevine Wash will be incremental. Our progress will be made in phases and will take many years to actualize. There are still a number of complex hurdles that we will have to clear before the first shovel of sand can move. The final development agreement identifies these CLEARLY as conditions to our moving ahead. Access, sewer, culinary water, gas, power and storm drainage, etc.; will all need to be addressed and resolved before we proceed. We’ve made some progress on many of these issues, but before we make the considerable investment needed to definitively fulfill these conditions, we need to come to an agreement with the Town on our final development plan.
Our objective is to build a successful, quality community that we can be proud of. The mixed use zoning gives us the flexibility necessary to meet our goals and satisfy the market’s needs. It is through both this flexibility and a well designed plan for responsible, controlled growth, that we expect to achieve success for the project.
Having said all of this, what we want to emphasize tonight is that mutual cooperation will be required to make Grapevine a success and achieve the benefits it can bring to the Town. While we don’t expect that we will all always be on the same page, we must be reading from the same play book. We are, and always have been; open and willing to discuss and address any substantive concerns the Town has regarding this project.
Ladies and Gentleman, we sincerely want to regain for this process a tone of cooperation and a dialogue that is substantive in nature and built on a spirit of compromise and mutual benefit. That has been the case for the nearly ten years that we have held property in Babylon Valley and it is our expectation that it will continue to be the case in the future as we work together to make Grapevine Wash a success for us all.
We welcome the opportunity to speak with each of you to address your questions and concerns directly and fully. Before the next Town Council meeting scheduled for May 23, we invite each of you and the rest of the Town to another open house. We feel that setting will allow us to interact with the community on a personal and informal level.
Thank you again for your time and attention. We look forward to further dialogue as we move ahead.