The McLoughlin Neighborhood Association doesn't want Oregon City to expand its Public Works Operations Center at Waterboard Park, and activists in Jennings Lodge want a developer to be denied permits to build a 62-lot housing subdivision on a 17-acre formal evangelical retreat center.
At first glance, these seem like your typical cases of not-in-my-backyard, but the local fights over land use are impressive for their ferocity and their striking parallels. Neighborhood groups in both cases have sued in their efforts to block the projects.
But the parallels between the two proposed projects don't end with the court battles. Both projects involve potential razing of historic buildings, appointed governmental officials canceling land-use hearings, proposals to chop down large stands of trees to make way for development, and frustrations over the land no longer being slated as a public park.
Potential razing of historic buildings
Oregon City's McLoughlin group and Clackamas County's Jennings Lodge group are the most active neighborhood organizations in their respective jurisdictions. Both neighborhoods have a rich history going back to the pioneer days, so the groups see it as their role to protect local historic resources whenever possible.
Earlier this year, the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association discovered the history behind two buildings slated for removal to make way for Oregon City's Public Works expansion. MNA voted unanimously to nominate the structures as historic resources, given their use as part of Camp Adair, Oregon's training facility during World War II. MNA was looking forward to Oregon City's Historic Review Board considering the nomination during an April 25 hearing (more on that later).
In Jennings Lodge, neighbors had always known that the evangelical retreat center was an important part of local and statewide history, where hundreds of old-growth conifers are slated for logging. The developer initially had set aside a small part of the subdivision as a public park, but this is no longer the case.
The site's developer, Lennar, was mandated to contract archaeologists to survey the area's historic buildings and dig around for evidence of a Native American burial ground that state experts said was likely at the site overlooking the Willamette River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that 17 of the structures on the Jennings Lodge site are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Since the developer's project proposes to raze all of the site's historic structures, Lennar had to agree to "mitigation actions" that are designed to make up for the destruction of pieces of the state's history. Lennar's proposed responsibilities, in exchange for the demolition permit, include documentation of the historic buildings, historical Jennings Lodge Evangelical Center photos (along with $2,500 for curation) to the Clackamas County Historical Society, $500 and electronic copies of photos to the Oregon Historical Society, installation of two memorials to Berryman Jennings, retaining "Jennings Lodge" in the naming of the subdivision, and making "reasonable efforts to use street names" associated with the history of the Jennings Lodge area. These proposed mitigation actions were sent out for comments from parties that have expressed interest with a May 5 deadline to respond.
The Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization unanimously passed a motion at its April 25 meeting describing concerns with proposed historic mitigation measures providing "token measures" to document historic buildings before demolition while failing "to adequately recognize the historical significance of the collection of cultural resources on the property that give it local as well as national significance."
Jennings Lodge CPO membership directed the CPO board to work with local historians and other interested parties to develop comments for the corps that address concerns and ways to reduce the negative impacts to the historic resources on the property, saying "the proposed mitigation does not provide adequate funding for the work that will be needed to foster and preserve an understanding of the local and national significance of this historic site for future generations, if the historic buildings and surrounding trees that are part of the eligible historic district are demolished."
Oregon City also is saying that all the historic structures on the site have to go.
"In addition to the poor condition and lack of compliance with current building standards, they are physically too small to accommodate a majority of equipment," wrote City Manager Tony Konkol in an April 18 memo. "Further, they are located in irregular topography, which create access and site circulation challenges. In order to maximize the efficiency of the site, the structures must be replaced with larger and more modernized storage facilities."
Oregon City also is offering mitigation actions. The city will post an ad in the local newspaper as well as the Daily Journal of Commerce offering the Camp Adair structures free of charge to someone planning to rehabilitate the structures and move them off of the site by Dec. 31. If the structures cannot be relocated, the original materials would go to rehabilitation of similar structures originating from Camp Adair. In this case, Oregon City has committed to "retaining pieces of the structures for interpretation onsite."
Potential hearings canceled
The Jennings Lodge CPO had protested that the hearings officer decided not to hold another public hearing on the 62-lot subdivision after it was sent back to the county on an appeal ("Jennings Lodge residents brace for zoning decision," March 13). Meanwhile, Oregon City further upset the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association by canceling a Historic Review Board hearing for the Camp Adair buildings originally set for April 25 ("WWII relics uncovered at Waterboard Park in Oregon City," March 13).
Mayor Dan Holladay said the decision to cancel the hearing was a purely administrative one. City commissioners had toured the site but had not discussed canceling the hearing, even in executive session, Holladay said.
"No matter what it is that we do, there are going to be a group of people who don't like it," Holladay said.
Oregon City currently is defending itself from a lawsuit in Clackamas County Court, based on the neighborhood's assertion that the public-works property is part of Waterboard Park, and therefore the city would have to refer the operations-center expansion proposal to voters. Konkol and the city's attorney said that the city, as the property owner, could deny a historic-designation hearing under Oregon law. However, speaking at the April 25 HRB meeting, attorney Jesse Buss said on behalf of the neighborhood that the provision in state law was designed to protect private property owners, not municipalities, especially not if that municipality, like Oregon City, has city code calling for certain procedures to be followed for historic reviews.
Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon, said she has learned about the larger controversy since submitting her original testimony and offered an addendum.
"After conducting a site visit to observe the condition of the buildings and the functional needs of the site, interviewing representatives from the city, and learning of the city's outreach to the community and stakeholders such as the State Historic Preservation Office, Clackamas Community College, and the Camp Adair Living History Museum, it appears that appropriate processes are being followed," Moretti wrote.
Although the lawsuit has not been resolved, the Public Works Department continues to spend taxpayer money on the Operations Center Master Plan. The department is requesting additional architecture, landscape design and engineering work required to address neighborhood association input, client requests, stormwater management calculations, and future coordination of geotechnical engineering.
On May 3, the City Commission will consider amending Deca Architecture's contract with an additional $36,190 for a total of $113,182, along with a $59,900 contract with GRI to provide geotechnical services for the master plan.