St. Helens Golf Course could close in September
A small group of golfers leaving the St. Helens Golf Course on a sunny Tuesday afternoon said they would be disappointed and sad should the course close.
Many of them have been golfing at the location for years, have annual memberships, golf twice a week in the summer months, and visit off and on in the winter and fall, weather-permitting.
Two of the golfers, Jim Prisynski and Danny Blackmore, said they enjoy the solitude of the course, the fact that it's not overly crowded and is in close proximity to where they live.
"It's nice and quiet," Prisynski said, adding, "That's the problem. He needs more business."
Owner Suki Chung was, in fact, exploring a new business opportunity with the golf course to bolster its bottom line. But after what he characterized as a negative staff report from the county regarding his intention to turn a portion of the 77-acre course into an RV park, he's now planning to close shop.
The St. Helens Golf Course will be closing this September, Chung announced Monday in a press release.
Chung was slated to speak at a public hearing before the Columbia County Planning Commission Monday night, March 5, regarding a proposal he submitted to the county to develop a 43-space RV park on the south portion of the course.
But after reading a county staff report on the proposal, he's throwing in the towel.
"It's not fair for me. I've been here for 11 years and I've tried to put in a lot of investment, and then I don't get anything back from the county," Chung said.
In advance of Monday's scheduled hearing, Columbia County planning staff compiled a report outlining a variety of conditions Chung would need to meet to realize his RV park goals.
Planning staff were asked to evaluate the application for its compliance to recreational zoning and how the business would blend with surrounding properties, which are primarily rural residential.
"As evaluated throughout this Report, the 43 Space RV park ... does not appear to be designed in ways that benefit the existing golf course's year-round recreational activities for county residents and tourists ... the proposed 43 Space RV park does not specifically provide recreation and vacation opportunities for the citizens, but because of its size, tends to increase alternative housing opportunities," the report states.
Planning staff ultimately recommended denial of the application.
The staff report also outlined a variety of required development upgrades for Chung to move forward, including extending electrical hookups, improving road conditions leading to the site, installing a dump station and shower facility, and obtaining necessary permits from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Chung, instead, chose to withdraw his application after seeing the staff report.
Columbia County planner Deborah Jacobs explained that staff saw the application as more of a long-term residential proposal rather than a recreational opportunity. Jacobs said planning staff members are not in the business of designing proposals, but rather must evaluate what is given to them.
Jacobs added that the department also received considerable negative feedback and concerns from surrounding neighbors who submitted letters to the county.
"It's a touchy subject because it's a recreational zone. I think that recreational aspect got lost," Jacobs said. "The proposal emphasized long-term camping. It didn't tie it into the golf course recreation at all. ... The neighbors expressed these concerns too. ... it was resembling a residential use, not a recreational use."
Establishing an RV park was part of broader vision to "upgrade and revitalize the existing nine-hole golf course," a press release from the golf course state. Chung said the proposal to build the RV park was his plan to expand his customer base and cater to retirees and individuals seeking a leisure- and travel-based golfing experience.
Chung, who has owned and operated the golf course since 2007, said running the golf course is not something
he feels he can do much long-
er unless revenue increases sufficiently to support the business.
The St. Helens Golf Course first opened in 1959.