Opponents of proposed Bell’s Amusement Park location ‘forbid’ city leaders from pursuing project


Broken Arrow resident Mary Ann Colston speaks Tuesday night at the Broken Arrow City Council meeting about what she feels is a lack of transparency about the proposed Bell's Amusement Park. No development plan has been submitted yet.

By John Dobberstein, Editor

Residents protesting location of proposed Bell's Amusement Park presented signed petitions to the Broken Arrow City Council Tuesday protesting the location of the development.

The group “Community Watch Team of Broken Arrow” says it gathered more than 1,000 signatures through Tuesday that were presented on the petitions. Opponents of the development – who filled most of the council chambers and an overflow room next door at City Hall – said it would negatively impact thousands of residents who live near the site at E. Kenosha Street just east of the Creek Turnpike.

They cite fears of crime, increased traffic, more stormwater runoff and harm to property values as the main reason. Some of them shared studies and articles about crime rates in and around amusement parks in other cities.

The petitions said “We oppose and forbid the proposed 102-acre park which encroaches on multiple neighborhoods of over 1,000 Broken Arrow homeowners.”

Linda Montgomery, who appears to be the leader of the group and submitted the petition, said it’s “inevitable” there will be detrimental impacts on homeowners. She noted the group is not opposed to having an amusement park, but the location of it.

“It’s the wrong location and the wrong development for our neighborhoods,” said Montgomery.

Broken Arrow resident Johnny Walker shared grades given to zip codes in Branson, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Mo. and Arlington, Texas where amusement parks and entertainment facilities are located. Their crime rates were rated as a “D” by Crimegrade.org, while Broken Arrow was rated as “B+”

“If Bell's is allowed within the city of Broken Arrow, many of the things we cherish about Broken Arrow will lost, potentially,” Walker said, noting some residents fear insurance rates will also go up if the development happens and crime increases in their zip code.

Doug Campbell, a retired Tulsa police officer and chief criminal investigator for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office, lives about 1,000 feet from the proposed site in Villas at Bel Lago.

He cited a study published in Justice Quarterly that examined the area around Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. That found a 198% increase in violent offenses and other crimes in that area after the attraction went in.

He said researchers have found each time a bar, hotel or other satellite development of a park is added it increases crime by 19%.

Demi Rogers says her home in Villas at Bel Lago, built in 2016, is about 900 feet from the proposed location. She and her husband chose the neighborhood because they had lived in small towns in Oklahoma and wanted a “small-town feel” with better options for education for their future children.

“When I was a child my parents wouldn't let me go to Bell's after dark because of the crime and the things that happened there,” Rogers said. “Our generation is the future of Broken Arrow. If this (park) comes to fruition we will not be a part of Broken Arrow, and anyone who wants to build family in Broken Arrow, I will tell them not to come to BA because of this. There is no way I want my children to grow up in Bel Lago and see Bell's 900 feet from my back door.”

But Broken Arrow resident Matt Griffith spoke in favor of the development, sharing a letter from a 50-year veteran Realtor as part of a study about Legoland. The Realtor stated he believed Legoland wouldn’t impact property values within a mile negatively. He shared an article about the Coney Island entertainment area boosting prospects in Brooklyn (N.Y.)

“Many concerns of the petitioners are that it’s happening in their backyard, but the fact is it’s not in their backyard. It's on private land purchased by a private investor,” Griffith said. “The city’s comprehensive plan doesn’t include peace and quiet. It includes innovative developments that bring big opportunities. The majority of Broken Arrow residents welcome this development with open arms.”

One of the more tense moments in the meeting came when Broken Arrow resident Mary Ann Colston announced she had submitted open records requests with the city of Broken Arrow and received, among other things, 225 pages of texts.

Colston indicated the current proposed location had been discussed since 2019 and there had been discussions about property closings, press conferences and economic development agreements prior to the formal announcement.

“The public has a right to know and the public did not have knowledge of this prior to Nov. 9 for the most part,” Colston said.

Some of the opposed residents expressed concern about early conversations about the project between the city of Broken Arrow and Broken Arrow Chamber. But City Manager Michael Spurgeon noted that nothing came to fruition until the land was purchased last year. It’s important to maintain confidentiality with such conversations, he said, or developers will not trust the city with proposed development plans and may look elsewhere.

At this point, Bell’s developers have hired an engineer for the project, but no development application has been submitted and no economic assistance has been requested of the city. Issues with utilities are still being discussed.

Spurgeon says city officials share the group’s concerns about traffic, stormwater and other impacts they mentioned.

“Every time we move forward with some step with this project I will make sure the public is aware,” Spurgeon said.

City Councilor Scott Eudey said when someone buys a piece of property and it is zoned properly for the use and they’re following local ordinances and statutes, the city doesn’t have the legal authority to prohibit or inhibit a project just because it may not be desired by some people. But the city council can ensure the developers follow the law.

“I have a lot of questions that I want to have answered based on past history and a bunch of other things about this project,” Eudey said. “If and when anything comes before the council for us to consider I assure I will be looking at it extremely closely.”

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