Clackamas County won't pay $5.4M for 2.5 acres in Jennings Lodge
North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District officials have told the developer of a 72-home subdivision at a former evangelical campground that $300,000 per empty lot is too much to pay to acquire parkland.
In a reversal from past county policy, NCPRD officials have expressed interest in acquiring approximately 2.5 acres of park land in the 16.77-acre former evangelical retreat center in Jennings Lodge. But Lennar Northwest developer Michael Loomis told county staff that he would sell 18 of the 72 lots for an unreasonable total of $5.4 million, according to the county's letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Loomis' partner on the project, Mike Anders, said that he is barred by Lennar "corporate policy" from speaking with the media.
Lennar purchased all of the 72 lots for $4,249,950 in June 2014, according to the county's assessment department. In 2015, a year after paying an average of about $59,000 per lot, Lennar offered to sell five of the lots to the Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization for $165,000 per lot; these were five of some the same 18 lots that Lennar just told the county are worth $300,000 each.
"We do want to continue discussions with Michael Loomis about acquiring a portion of the property at fair market value," wrote NCPRD Director Scott Archer in the March 15 letter.
Karen Bjorklund, Jennings Lodge CPO chair, thanked county staff and commissioners for their work in the past few months aimed toward acquiring some the former evangelical property for a public park.
"The possible parkland under discussion would preserve an historic grove in a nationally eligible historic district, an outdoor cathedral of about 60 to 70 Douglas fir trees," Bjorklund said. "That is one of three historic groves, along with many historic buildings, that are all otherwise threatened with complete demolition to make way for a housing subdivision."
Since two members of the county board were unseated in 2016, Clackamas County commissioners (acting in their role as Board of Directors of NCPRD) have signaled their renewed interest in developing a "neighborhood park asset" in Jennings Lodge. In October 2014, former County Board Chairman John Ludlow announced the county had put negotiations for a park on hold, but Ludlow and County Commissioner Tootie Smith were unseated in 2016.
County officials have pointed out to the Corps that the changing position is partially due to the different county "board membership." Additionally, the advocacy of neighborhood groups has been strengthening over the past few years, during which political pressure increased to build parks in unincorporated areas, while Happy Valley withdrew from NCPRD at the beginning of this year.
"Conditions and resources available to NCPRD with respect to a park in the Jennings Lodge area, which is the historic district generally including the [Lennar] property, have changed substantially since the applicant's last communications," wrote Archer in a previous letter to the Corps on Jan. 25. "NCPRD has been made aware of the issue by community groups who believe that the historic district would be well served by preservation of at least some trees and structures on the property site, potentially including Friesen Chapel and Hope House."
Before this game-changing Jan. 25 letter, the Corps had said one reason they didn't think a park was a feasible alternative for preservation was that there wasn't an appropriate long-term sponsor. Corps officials then asked NCPRD for more information on the park agency's interest in managing a park on the evangelical property, in order to gauge the viability of this as an option.
In a Feb. 16 letter to the Corps, Archer narrowed the scope of the county's interest to 2.5 acres on the south end of the site, adding that "NCPRD is not interested in acquiring structures for rehabilitation." Archer cited the tight timeline for developing a variety of options as a reason for the county focusing on a portion of the site without structures.
"It is important to note that NCPRD has limited funding available to purchase this land," Archer said in a press release this week. "However we want to be good partners and work with community in assisting them to raise the substantial amount of additional funding realistically needed to acquire this property."
Because of the preservation opportunity and the need for a community park in Jennings Lodge, neighborhood leaders think that acquiring this land for a public park merits extra county effort and urged that negotiations continue.
"The towering trees are one of the highly valued characteristics of Jennings Lodge, and the community has been trying to find a way to preserve them, and also get a park for the underserved community," Bjorklund said. "This would also be a great amenity for the subdivision."
NCPRD has pledged to report back to the public as progress is made in negotiating with Lennar. According to County Administrator Don Krupp, if NCPRD acquired an assemblage of subdivision lots as they are currently platted, no new application would be required of Lennar for constructing homes on the remainder of the site. NCPRD would have the burden of pursuing appropriate land-use applications to use those lots for public park purposes.
"This should not affect the developer's plans and schedule for the remaining portions of the subdivision," Krupp said.
As previously reported, the Corps has given hope to Jennings Lodge residents for saving some of the 326 trees previously slated for removal at the proposed subdivision. Corps officials have determined the "trees are considered a contributing element to the district" and will include them in consideration of how to mitigate the "adverse effects" of the project.
Since the developer's project proposes to raze all of the site's historic structures, Lennar will have to agree to "mitigation actions" that are designed to make up for the destruction of pieces of the state's history.