Ron Guiley is livid.
On Aug. 20, I listened to a visibly upset Guiley address the Bend Park & Recreation District board during a public meeting.
Two days later, standing between Guiley's westside Bend property line and Sunset View Park—a small pocket park in Newport Hills with towering ponderosa and a small playground area situated at the terminus of dead-end street—I find it easy to sympathize with his anger and frustration. He points to a section of land that just months ago was a natural setting marked by sage and ponderosa but is now a construction site complete with mounds of churned soil and bulldozer tracks.
"There were big ponderosas in here and they just ripped them out," Guiley says.
Over the summer, a tract of land privately owned, but informally and freely enjoyed as a natural thoroughfare for at least a decade, is transitioning into a housing development. That development, an expansion of the NorthWest Crossing neighborhood, directly north of Skyliners Road, will put an end to the informal park (and its many trails) and the new roads, residents say, will hamper access to and from nearby Sunset View Park.
Neighbors say Northwest Drouillard Avenue, the new road that runs along the south side of the park, as well as the additional roads crisscrossing the hillside just above, mar the land and disrupt the tranquility and views from Sunset View Park. Additionally, neighbors fear that the ongoing NorthWest Crossing development projects have ruined safe access to the nearby paved West Bend Trail, which parallels Skyliners Road and provides a path toward area schools and the Phil's Trail complex.
But, while the West Bend Trail is operated by the Bend Park & Recreation District, the adjacent tract of land is not public; it is owned by West Bend Property Co. and has been slated for development for at least 10 years.
"I totally understand the residents' concerns—this is a change. I just ask for their patience," says David Ford, general manager of West Bend Property, the developer that builds NorthWest crossing homes. The family-oriented neighborhood is built on 486 acres and contains about 735 homes—a number that could swell to 1,100, Ford says.
"Let us change and we can all adapt to what's been implemented," Ford adds.
But neighbors are not looking forward to adapting to those changes, and are considering what is already lost and what additionally is at risk. While Barbara McAusland appreciates Ford's sympathy, she also says kind words won't bring back the large ponderosas, which were home to migratory birds and provided a natural setting in an increasingly suburban area. McAusland, the land use chair from the River West Neighborhood Association, and others, hope to reopen negotiations with the Bend Park & Recreation District and NorthWest Crossing; with the trees already gone, their primary concern now is continued access to the West Bend Trail.
McAusland shows me where the informal trails from Sunset View Park toward the West Bend Trail had been decimated.
"This trail," says McAusland, pointing to an area now busy with bulldozers, "allowed safe access to high schoolers and grade schoolers, without having to cross any major roads." The former trail access was a sewer easement (now relocated) and is the future home to "cluster cottages."
Going forward, neighbors and park users hoping to access West Bend Trail will need to use the newly constructed roads and sidewalks to cross Northwest Lemhi Pass Drive—a new, but busy, collector road that ties into Skyliners Road. Or they can follow other new neighborhood roads that also tie into West Bend Trail. But there will be no trails directly connecting to the popular public corridor.
Another Newport Hills resident, Bob Tucker, agrees with his neighbors and issues a simple statement that could easily serve as the community movement's slogan: "The kids shouldn't have to pass Lemhi Pass." Tucker, a retired Summit High history teacher, was one of several neighbors to speak out against the recent development at last week's Bend Park & Recreation District board meeting.
Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton thinks he understands the source of the neighbors' frustration. He says that Sunset View Park, the adjacent pocket park, now feels smaller since the surrounding tract of land—as well as its numerous makeshift trails that connected to the widely used West Bend Trail—is under construction.
"The biggest surprise to them is it [Sunset View Park] wasn't as big as they thought," Horton says.
He also defends the extension of Northwest Drouillard Avenue, and the small land swap the park district made with West Bend Property—a parcel the developer needed to build the road and one that measures approximately 50 feet by 50 feet. Had no new road been built, Horton points out, Sunset View Park would be surrounded by houses on three sides once the new residential development is completed.
"It would have been like a picture frame with houses all around it," adds Horton.
Soon, park users will have access via Northwest Stannium Road as well as Northwest Drouillard Avenue. Another park official, Michelle Healy, says residents shouldn't worry about Sunset View Park's future—it's slated for improvements. And, Healy says, West Bend Property will landscape the steep slope that makes the new road, so it won't be left bare.
Still, the tree removal, road construction and resulting loss of safe trail access to West Bend Trail, are, according to River West neighbors, only part of a larger problem. During construction, dirt was mounded high around the bark of several trees, which can kill ponderosas. And, according to the neighbors, public outreach was minimal.
"It was not a pretty process," says JoAn Mann, another River West resident and former owner of All Mixed Up, a frozen yogurt shop in NorthWest Crossing. "It wasn't being a good neighbor to Newport Hills."