When the city of Scappoose adopted a parks master plan earlier this year, the promise of Chapman Landing finally becoming a bona fide recreational spot seemed within reach.
But now the city is running into hurdles after asking the county to relinquish ownership of the land.
Scappoose city councilors met Monday, Aug. 1, to map out how to respond to a notice from Columbia County rejecting the city's request to take over ownership of Chapman Landing, a waterfront area in Scappoose that marks one end of the recreational Crown Zellerbach Trail. The site marked the end of a former logging path and was later given to the Port of St. Helens, with a memorandum of understanding between the Port, the county and the city of Scappoose.
The city hopes to develop the site as a waterfront park. More than a year ago it began moving with planning efforts, involving city staff and even assembling a Chapman Landing advisory committee. A piece of land that adjoins the site was donated to the city as part of a larger property purchase involving land on Seely Lane. But once planning efforts got underway, city officials and citizen volunteers quickly learned the county was given ownership of the Chapman Landing property several years prior.
City officials said this week that they were surprised to find out that the county had been given ownership of the site from the Port of St. Helens.
City Manager Michael Sykes and Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge say that violates the 1996 memorandum of understanding, which stipulated the Port would give first rights of refusal to both the city of Scappoose and Columbia County, should it ever choose to no longer keep the site.
"The Port ended up with the waterfront piece, but we put together an agreement at that time that said if the Port decided they didn't want the property for park uses anymore, they would have to give the city and county the opportunity to purchase it from them for a reasonable price," Sykes said by phone Tuesday.
Scappoose city officials say that never happened and, instead, the site was quietly transferred to the county.
"We feel and we believe that the property was illegally transferred," Burge said Tuesday. "The city was never given that legal right of refusal."
Tony Hyde, former longtime Columbia County commissioner, was in office at the time of the property transfer. Hyde also sat on Scappoose's Chapman Landing committee as a county representative last year.
Hyde said the Chapman Landing site was used as an asset for a "match" so that the county could obtain a large state grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation to acquire the rights to Crown Zellerbach Trail. Government agencies often require agencies seeking grants to contribute a portion of the cost of a project, or something of equivalent value, before getting funding for large projects.
Hyde said the property ownership status shouldn't come as a surprise to the Scappoose officials.
"I had gone to both the Port and the city and asked them to sign off," Hyde said of the land transfer. "We wanted to buy all of the underlying right of way and property for what is now CZ Trail, and the only way we could do that was a cash match or in-kind cash match."
The county used Chapman Landing as the match rather than putting up a large sum of cash.
In September 2016, after realizing the ownership snag, Scappoose sent a letter to Columbia County asking for Chapman Landing to be given to the city to develop as a park.
Nearly a year later, the county responded in writing, declining to relinquish ownership and opting instead to assemble a committee to study its potential uses.
"After considerable discussion, the Board of Commissioners have decided to maintain ownership of Chapman Landing for the present time," the letter, signed by Commissioners Henry Heimuller, Margaret Magruder and Alex Tardif, states. In the letter, the county alluded to several rumored uses for the property, including, "a park site to a city water supply."
"We are all interested in knowing the scope of potential uses prior to making a final decision as to the disposition of the property and gauge what options will be in the best interest of all Columbia county residents."
After receiving the rejection letter, city councilors agreed to approach the county again to find out what the hang-ups were. Burge, along with City Councilors Joel Haugen and Rich Riffle, as well as members of the Chapman Landing advisory committee, approached commissioners Wednesday morning, saying the city and the county both want to see the site become a recreational spot for county residents, but Scappoose has solid plans and the motivation to get it done within the next five years.
Councilors and citizens said they don't think Chapman Landing is high on the county's list of priorities and told commissioners they fear that if Scappoose isn't given the land and the ability to move forward, it will sit vacant and vandalized for the next 10 years.
"The city's motivated and willing to take on this project," Burge told commissioners Wednesday. "We're gonna be saving the county money and we're getting the same product. We just want to get it done at a quicker pace."
County commissioners said the city of Scappoose never formally presented its plans for Chapman Landing to the county and invited city officials to return with a presentation of plans and timelines at a future commission staff meeting.
Sykes agreed, but told commissioners in jest, "I think when you see the cost to develop it, you're probably gonna wanna give it to us."