- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LOS ANGELES

Neverland’s neighbors are organizing against any move to turn Michael Jackson’s former home into a tourist destination that could disturb the area’s rural tranquillity.

Residents of Santa Ynez Valley on Monday announced a new group called Never!

It is backed by area community organizations that want to head off any attempts to convert the Neverland ranch in remote Los Olivos into a commercial venue, spokesman Bob Field says.

Mr. Field said the area doesn’t have the roads, police or other infrastructure to support crowds drawn to a Graceland-like tourist attraction, which he says would disrupt the enclave’s tranquillity.

Such a development would require the property to be rezoned from agricultural to commercial use, a lengthy process that would require a series of public hearings in which residents could express their opposition.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Nicole Koon says officials have not been contacted by the property owners or the Jackson family about a zoning change.

Property co-owner Thomas Barrack, meanwhile, hasn’t proposed developing the site, but Mr. Field says the Santa Ynez Valley residents in his group want solid reassurances that he won’t.

“We have received mixed messages, some reassuring, some troubling,” he says. “We’d like clear, concrete signs that there are no plans to pursue turning this into a tourist attraction.”

The Los Olivos Business Organization, which consists of the wineries, restaurants and boutiques along the town’s short commercial strip, released a separate statement Monday stating its opposition to having a Graceland-like venue in its midst.

Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Colony Capital LLC, the Los Angeles-based firm where Mr. Barrack is chairman and chief executive, had no immediate comment.

Mr. Field, the former chairman of a county-appointed community planning committee, says he was suspicious of Mr. Barrack’s motives for inviting dozens of local politicians and opinion leaders to the ranch for tours followed by lavish breakfasts or barbecue dinners.

Mr. Field, who joined one of the tours, said a Barrack representative assured guests at the event that there were no immediate plans to attempt to have Mr. Jackson buried at the ranch or to convert it into a tourist attraction.

Nevertheless, the representative did not unequivocally disavow such plans. Mr. Field also was concerned that staff members distributed baseball caps embroidered with “Neverland 2009” to guests.

Mr. Field called on Mr. Barrack to enter into a land-conservation agreement with the state. Such agreements give tax breaks to rural landowners who agree not to develop their properties.

Neverland previously enjoyed so-called Williamson Act tax protections but was withdrawn from the agreement during Mr. Jackson’s ownership, Mr. Field says.

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