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Costco to Get Park Acreage

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the trees haven’t been cut down yet, the legal ground has been cleared for the city of Lancaster to hand over premium parkland to big-box retailer Costco.

Officials say they had to give up about 4.5 shady acres of Lancaster City Park’s 71 acres to keep the city’s largest sales-tax generator from fleeing to neighboring Palmdale. Costco will now move next to the park from a less central site in west Lancaster.

“We viewed it as critical to maintaining our lifestyle for Costco to remain in our city,” Assistant City Manager Dennis Davenport said. “We had over 200 jobs that were at stake, and we had sales tax that would pay for law enforcement and cultural events that would otherwise be lost.”

But some residents are outraged by the deal, which includes 13.6 acres of vacant city land alongside the park as well as generous tax incentives. Costco will pay nothing for the property. It intends to build a 148,000-square-foot store on the joined parcels, removing about 100 trees in the process.

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“It’s one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen,” said George Root, a former city councilman and member of the Antelope Valley Trails, Recreation and Environmental Council. “That was mature parkland . . . a lush, grassy, woody area.”

Peter Dreier, a professor of public policy at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said that since Proposition 13 in 1978 put limits on property taxes, cities such as Lancaster have become increasingly reliant on sales-tax revenue, and big-box chains often work that to their advantage.

“The park deal sounds pretty outrageous,” he said. “On the other hand . . . you understand why cities try to outdo each other for private investment.”

Costco officials say they have outgrown a 130,000-square-foot store in west Lancaster. City officials have warned the store could pull up stakes for Palmdale.

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For the last several months, the proposal pitted environmentalists and supporters of Lancaster City Park against officials and residents who argued that Costco is the largest single contributor to the city’s $33-million budget.

The City Council voted 5 to 0 on Tuesday to approve the deal. At the same time, the council set aside 26 acres north of downtown for a future park.

The council’s package will allow Costco to keep all sales-tax revenue in excess of $470,000 annually for seven to eight years.

The city also will buy Costco’s existing building for $6 million and sell it for $3 million to the mall owner, Retail Value Investment Program. That company is expected to raze the structure, Davenport said. He said the city is willing to take a loss on the sale to ensure the mall is not saddled with an empty building.

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