Old City Hall was packed last night (Oct. 2) for a Public Hearing and City Council vote on a much-debated land swap between the city and the MRA – Motorcycle Riders Association. In the end, council ended-up voting 5-1 to enter a sales contract with the MRA to complete the deal, which is contingent upon the MRA receiving State of Oregon Parks grant funds to make it happen.
Should the deal close, the city will receive about $680,000 and be required to abide by a yet-to-be-determined Healthy Forest Plan. City Administrator Jeff Alvis indicated the funds will be allocated as such: $270,000 to pay-off the entire mortgage debt on the Police Station, $200,000 to repair the city’s aging dam and spillway and $150,000 to care for the 4 historic properties the city is about to get from Jackson County. All dam repair and historic property account funds, Alvis noted, can be used toward matching grant applications, effectively doubling the funding available.
Of the 7 citizens to speak during the hearing, Linda Kestner, John Ellis, Art Krueger, Jack Helvie and Jerry Mathern opposed the sale. Their stated reasons included a desire to send the matter to a public advisory vote, needing more time to study the issue, appraisal questions and disappointment over a lack of public involvement in the process.
Speaking in support of the deal, Tony Hess and Clara Wendt reminded the council that the issue has been studied for 18 years and that the city’s original plan to, “retain, maintain and manage” the watershed was best met by completing the land swap.
If completed, the deal calls for the MRA moving out of a 40 acre parcel of land it owns in the lower section of the city’s 1800 acre watershed. That parcel is viewed by most as a hindrance to the city’s development of the Forest Park, a city park, located in the lower 1080 acres of the watershed. By trading 380 acres of upper watershed land for the lower 40, the MRA effectively will be removed from the Forest Park and its non-motorized hiking and mountain biking users. The MRA property also contains a large parking lot and staging area which was primarily paid for with state park grant funds many years ago. Legally, the MRA is responsible for reimbursing the state park fund for those improvement costs to the parking/staging area. After balancing the appraisals for the 380 and 40 acre parcels and subtracting the MRA repayment obligation, the city’s net gain was estimated to be $680,000. During the hearing, it was pointed-out that the MRA’s 40 acre parcel was appraised at a higher $/acre cost because it is a 40 acre buildable lot and could, therefore bring more money if placed for sale on the open market.
During council discussion on the matter, Mayor Paul Becker, Councilors Lewis, Duanne, Jesser and Hayes favored the sale while Councilor Schatz voted against. (Councilor Winterburn was absent and did not vote.)
The majority of council who advocated for the sale did so based on the rationale that exchanging 380 steep and mostly unusable acres in the upper watershed for the lower 40 acre parcel and cash made sense and that moving the MRA closer to their existing trail system was best to insure the integrity of the Forest Park.
From here, assuming the MRA is successful in obtaining new State Park grant funds, the closing of the property will occur in early 2013.