Group Forms To Head Off Neverland Development - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Group Forms To Head Off Neverland Development

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Neighbors of Neverland are organizing against any move to turn Michael Jackson's former home into a tourist destination that could disturb the area's rural tranquility.

Residents of the rural Santa Ynez Valley announced a new group Monday 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 said.

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 said would disrupt the enclave's tranquility.

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 where residents could express their opposition.

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

Property co-owner Thomas Barrack, meanwhile, hasn't proposed developing the site, but Field said 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 said. "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 a Graceland-like venue in its midst.

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

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

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 Jackson buried at the ranch or to convert it to a tourist attraction.

But the representative did not unequivocally disavow such plans. Field was also concerned that staff members distributed baseball caps embroidered with "Neverland 2009" to guests.

Field called on Barrack to enter into a land conservation agreement with the state that gives tax breaks to rural landowners who agree not to develop their property.

Neverland previously enjoyed the so-called Williamson Act tax protections, but was withdrawn from the agreement during Jackson's ownership, Field said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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