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Anaheim city officials are speaking out in support of future park space and sports fields in an area of the city where Orange County Water District officials are considering a potential power plant.

The water district owns about 20 acres of open land in Anaheim and is considering leasing the property to a Maryland company that wants to build a power plant there.

The city disapproves and wants to confer with water officials before they continue their talks with the power company.

The district-owned land is known as the Ball Road Basin property and lies along the Santa Ana River between Angel Stadium and the Honda Center.

The site has been used as a recharge basin and a storm channel into the Santa Ana River.

An electric company from Maryland, Competitive Power Ventures, recently approached the water district with an offer to build a power plant on the land where the city wants to build a park and sports fields.

“We have a very dense city. We have an extensive park system, however we are deficient in open space, particularly in the central part of the city where this is located,” said Terry Lowe, the city’s community services director.

Little open space remains, he said. “The biggest priority right now, the biggest demand on our park system, is for play space for organized sports, specifically soccer.”

“All of our parks are being used to capacity, probably beyond capacity, and in a city as old as our city is and as developed as it is, there really aren’t a lot of alternatives for us as far as open space,” Lowe said.

Bruce Dosier, the water district’s property management director, said he understands Anaheim’s dilemma but argued that the potential power plant could be a financial benefit to Anaheim residents.

If the district makes money on a land lease, it could save money on water bills and even offset future costs, he said.

Because the land is zoned as open space, the district is likely to need City Council approval for a power plant.

For the past five years, water district officials have been trying to have the land rezoned for commercial use.

“It’s worth about anywhere from $35 to $40 a square foot, …” said Dosier. “It could be worth upwards of $40 million if zoned properly and filled in. It’s important that we want to maximize some type of revenue.”

Dosier said Anaheim could also maximize some type of revenue, which would be a win-win for both agencies.

“It could also be a good retail center or some other commercial center, something that could bring property tax to the city and also revenue to the city. And those two points — whether it’s a commercial center or a power plant — the city would get some kind of financial benefit from them,” said Dosier.

City officials, meanwhile, emphasized how critical it is to preserve open space for the benefit of residents.

“There’s very little open space of any size remaining,” said Lowe. “As far as we can determine, this is about the only location where we can put a sizable sports complex.

“We believe that a higher and better use for that land, since it’s currently zoned open space, would be to continue to have it being open space but adapt it for park use.”

Water district officials said that should the power plant be built, they would consider allowing the city to use part of the property as park space.

Officials said they haven’t yet struck a deal with the power plant company and will keep the city informed about any negotiations.

The district has a history of providing the county with various properties to be used as either parks or open space, officials said. They point to the district’s leasing of 14 acres for Anaheim’s popular Coves Park.

The issue has emerged as officials work to preserve open space in park-poor areas of North Orange County.

Orange County’s building boom after World War II transformed North County from agriculture and open space to hastily-planned housing tracts.

The planners of South County, meanwhile, made parks a high priority with a determined effort to maintain open space, trails and green belts.

Open space has been found to be crucial for public health. Limited open space is a contributing factor to health issues such as obesity and diabetes, according to research funded by the California Endowment.

The Anaheim debate also comes as electricity providers seek local electricity sources to replace the closed San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The segment aired this week on PBS SoCaL’s “Real Orange.” Click the video above to see the full report.

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