LEEDS, Washington County — Rumors and accusations of nefarious dealings entwined in a proposed massive development in this picturesque valley are flying — much like I-15 traffic hurtling past this small southern Utah town.
At stake in this tug-of-war over the proposed Grapevine Wash development are the ideals of some town residents who want to hang onto their bucolic desert lifestyle of shade trees, red rock and gardens against a mixed use development on 370 acres that would add thousands of homes, as well as retail development.
An open house detailing components of Grapevine Wash is from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at town hall, where a group of property owners/developers touting strong "local" ties are scheduled to answer questions from residents. Afterward, the town council will discuss aspects of the development in a meeting that will start at 7 p.m., but no formal action will take place. A vote for final approval project is still down the road.
Many angry residents say the proposed development slipped under the radar and the majority of town officials have done what they can to disguise everything it encompasses.
"There's no question (the town leaders and developers) have done everything possible to hide this development within the law," said Kevin Lee, who owns farm property nearby.
Mayor Alan Roberts disputes that, saying all phases of the proposal have followed the process in place through open records and open meetings laws.
"Leeds town will follow the process that is there and not allow public clamor to cloud decisions," related to what adheres to zoning and planning ordinances in place, Roberts said.
"I am saddened by what I will say are some of the lies by others who just don't understand the process," he said.
The property owners began acquiring land in Babylon Valley in 2002 and five years later embarked on a plan to develop their property into a walkable "village" of homes to meet expansive growth in Washington County. The property owners group consists of MSH Investments, Tuscan Lenders Group, The Dick Miller Group and Shree Sharma.
By 2009, the Grapevine Wash development projecting as many as 2,500 homes at build out in 50 years became part of Leeds proper and in the past three years has steadily marched forward in the approval process.
In February, Leeds Planning Commission members gave a thumbs up to the final development plan, and that is when opponents' let loose with a barrage of objections.
Among the complaints and accusations:
• Developers will use eminent domain to take private property
• Grapevine Wash will bring low-income housing to Leeds
• Leeds residents will end up paying the costs of the development
• Main Street will be turned into a highway
A residents' group opposed to the project has organized and put up website called getinvolvedleeds.org, in which Grapevine Wash is described as a project that will "bring an end to our quiet town and its personal history."
A readers' forum has turned into a free-wheeling sounding board for frustrated residents. Posters question the motivation of town officials, the financial viability of the development or who'll make off with any profit to be turned.
The bashing has devolved to the point where the Grapevine Wash development website addressed the accusations with a statement of its own.
"On more than one occasion, in public meetings, in written statements, and through rumor and innuendo, it has been asserted we have had undue, improper, even illegal influence over Town and County officials with respects to decisions that have been made regarding our project," the reply reads. "These assertions are utterly false defamatory and we will vigorously defend ourselves against any such untruths."
Developers dispute that eminent domain will be used, Main Street will transform into a highway and the full cost will be borne by them.
Beyond the mud-slinging and threats of litigation, Grapevine Wash elicits a plaintive cry on the opponents' website of what changes people fear it will bring if approved.
"Well we guess you will just have to accept that your old Leeds is already in the dustpan, ready to be thrown out. You can now anxiously look forward to living like overfed gerbils in a too-small plastic habitat."