Jennings Lodge residents brace for Corps of Engineers decision
A recent determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given hope to Jennings Lodge residents for saving some of the 326 trees that were previously slated for removal at a 72-home subdivision at a former evangelical campground.
The corps considered more than 80 pages of documents provided by historic consultants and the community, along with federal requirements, before issuing a statement last month saying: "The Corps has determined the trees are considered a contributing element to the district and will include them in our consideration as we assess adverse effects."
The property is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district because of its connection to the nationwide historic camp meeting movement, a movement that was about more than just the buildings. The trees and setting were among some of the other important historic elements. In fact, for the first 10 of its more than 100 years as a camp meeting site, the evangelical property didn't have buildings; the trees were the outdoor cathedral.
"Including trees as part of consideration is an important step in identifying and recognizing the true scope and historic significance of this property, both in how it played a central role in our local history and in the national camp meeting movement," said Karen Bjorklund, chairwoman of the Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization.
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 corps previously determined that 17 of the structures on the Jennings Lodge site are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Corps officials have declined to give a timeline for a determination or release any of the documents submitted so far.
"We are following federal law in the review of this permit application, which requires us to release our determination once it's been finalized," said Jeffrey Henon, spokesperson for the corps' Portland District. "We are currently [since October] having biweekly meetings with all consulting parties including the State Historic Preservation Office, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust and the local interest groups. It's not possible to share the applicant's comments with you because the issues addressed and solutions offered are continually evolving. The intent of these meetings is to formulate a [memorandum of understanding] that finalizes the actions to be taken that mitigates the adverse effects to historic properties."
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, 2017 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."
In the conference calls since October, the two national organizations and the two local community groups have urged the corps to complete a more comprehensive identification of significant historic elements of the property beyond just looking at the buildings on the property.
According to a neighborhood source, representatives for the Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization and the Oak Lodge History Detectives were involved in a recent call with the corps, along with representatives from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., and Lennar Inc., the applicant.
Local leaders were encouraged during the call, when national historic representatives shared the same local concerns, that the corps hasn't yet adequately investigated ways to reduce what's called the "adverse impact" to some of the historic property.
"The proposals we received from the corps so far have focused on mitigation only, in the form of very minimal actions to document and then destroy the entire National Register-eligible historic district," Bjorklund said. "So the process has skipped the required reasonable and good-faith effort to investigate the less destructive steps of avoiding or minimizing the adverse impact. An example of minimizing the impact would be preserving a few buildings on a few lots to represent the historic district that would otherwise be demolished."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has been watching the process closely and hasn't yet weighed in on what should happen in Jennings Lodge except to say that he's been trying to make sure that the corps "does its job."
In 2015, Clackamas County Hearings Officer Fred Wilson rejected Lennar Northwest's application for a zoning change, on the basis of preserving neighborhood character, after dozens of hours of testimony from concerned residents of the unincorporated area.
Lennar appealed the 2015 zone-change application decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. In August, the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with LUBA in saying that a 72-home Jennings Lodge development will have to go back to Clackamas County, a decision that limited Wilson's ability to deny the development again at the 16.7-acre parcel.