CALDWELL — Development of the Suncreek RV Resort in Caldwell will move forward after passionate public testimony — most of which strongly opposed the resort.

Caldwell City Council on Monday night voted 5-1 against the Caldwell School District’s request to appeal decisions made earlier this year to allow an RV resort at the southwest corner of Aviation Way and Marble Front Road, kitty-corner to Van Buren Elementary. Councilman Mike Pollard was the only vote in favor of the district’s appeal.

“I am baffled that this even got approved,” said Cyndi Simpson, a Caldwell resident. “We don’t want that on Marble Front Road. We want pristine living, peacefulness. … It’s sickening to think that it could disappear.”

Many residents, school district employees and trustees had similar concerns about what the development could bring, pointing toward an increase in large-vehicle traffic, as well as the transient nature of RV parks.

RV parks provide opportunity for predators and people who target and commit crimes against children, said Cheryl Sanderson, director of business operations for the Caldwell School District.

Idaho law allows a registered sex offender to be in a temporary location for up to seven days before they’re required to notify the county sheriff or other entities. However, they must register within two working days of coming into any county to establish residence. It’s against the law for any registered sex offender to reside within 500 feet of school property or knowingly loiter on a public way within 500 feet from the property line of school grounds.

“I have a moral imperative to look after the safety of students,” said Shalene French, the district’s superintendent. “What happens to them if someone is a predator and standing on the side of the road watching them out in the playground?”

The state only provides funding for busing beyond 1.5 miles of a school, so many students at Van Buren walk to and from school unsupervised, according to Sanderson. A district can choose to transport students within that radius if they want, and if funding is available.

Although the district has necessary safety technology — including buzz-in security doors and camera systems — French said the danger comes from what happens once a student leaves school to walk home.

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Sanderson acknowledged the RV resort could attract high-quality RVs and said she still worries there won’t be ways to track a person’s background.

Those in favor of the RV resort argued that traffic wouldn’t be an issue because it would have an entrance on Marble Front Road for emergency vehicles only, not for RV users.

Engineer and representative for the development, William Mason, said subdivisions, which may include houses used as an Airbnb, pose the same risk toward students in regard to sexual predators.

Mason read council a joint statement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice that says state and local governments can’t “act because of the fears, prejudices, stereotypes, or unsubstantiated assumptions that community members may have about current or prospective residents because of the residents’ protected characteristics.”

Council President Dennis Callsen called the situation “very troubling” because he felt that City Council was “out of the loop” in terms of how the RV park was approved.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special use permit for the RV resort and recommended that City Council approve the developer’s requested annexation. Once a special use permit is approved, the development is set to move forward. Once the annexation was brought to City Council, the item discussed only included the annexation, not the RV park itself.

“The City Council and mayor value the safety of the children just as much as the schools do — every motion that we do is involved or thinking about those priorities,” Callsen said. “But we also have to be able to rule on property rights, and our planning and zoning crew did that.”

The Vallivue School District in March passed a bond to build a new middle school on property near the fully developed RV resort, Ambassador RV Resort — which caused some to question their reasoning for purchasing the property. Vallivue’s superintendent could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Because Monday’s public hearing was quasi-judicial, meaning the council acts as a jury or judge and allows due process for public testimony, the public will have 28 days to appeal the decision. The appeal period starts after City Council adopts the written decision, scheduled for June 17.

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.

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