As real-estate values continue to soar, Oregon City officials have been addressing various instances of private-property owners making claims on public land in apparent efforts to discourage its use by homeless people.
Oregon City's planning department has determined that no one applied for the city to vacate a public alley next to a 12th Street homeless service center where someone put up a "private drive" sign. Meanwhile, next to the McLoughlin Promenade, a public park frequented by homeless people, a property owner installed an approximately 2-foot-high retaining wall on public property that discourages public use of a section of the park near a private home overlooking the Willamette River.
City code allows officials to send letters to private property owners to enforce public rights of way with threats of fines until compliance is achieved. However, after receiving an anonymous complaint, Oregon City Code Enforcement confirmed that the retaining-wall case is not in an active enforcement area as city staff from another department attempt to handle the issue more informally with the property owner.
"We have not sent any letter warning the property owner at 118 Promenade Street about an encroachment of a retaining wall," said Oregon City Parks Director Kendall Reid. "We have had conversations with the property owner, and they have agreed to remove the retaining wall by the end of September."
Laura Terway, head of Oregon City's planning department, has taken charge of the case involving the "private drive" sign next to a public alley.
"The sign is sn enforcement action, so we don't divulge the details of enforcement while we're going through it, although it's open for public record once the action is completed," Terway said.
Giving the false impression of a "private drive" benefits two private property owners: one whose repeated complaints forced the city to remove a nearby 24-hour public restroom last year, and another property on the alley with real-estate agents attempting to sell a renovated house for $745,000 that was purchased out of foreclosure in 2016 for $173,000.
Attempts to sell the house for more than four times the price it commanded four years ago are not claiming a "private drive" for the property at 1206 Washington St. According to online advertising for the house, Scott Besaw is listed as the seller's agent.
As previously reported, the neighboring property owners Jay and Patricia Pearce repeatedly complained about one of Oregon City's six Arta Potties, which eventually forced the city to remove it from the street near their house at 1214 Washington St., only separated from Father's Heart Street Ministry by the public alley. Jay Pearce applied to be selected as an Oregon City commissioner but was not appointed from among nine applicants last year.
Clackamas County's assessor has now valued the Pearces' property at more than $600,000, which includes their five-bedroom, 3,600-square-foot house and more than half-acre lot. They purchased it for $302,000 in 2012, public records show, and the "private drive" sign appears to be attached to the fence on their side of the alley. Jay Pearce offered the following comments on this news story:
"We support the use of that alley publicly, and we have neighbors who use that alley to take their dogs for a walk. That private drive sign is 4 feet on our side of the property and is meant to keep people out of our driveway, which has been frequented by mentally ill and vagrants. The reason for moving the Arta Pottie had nothing to do with my property or its property values, but everything to do with my and the city's shared concern about vandalism and drug dealing centered around the portable toilet. I was a charter member of the Oregon City Homeless Solutions Coalition, which has morphed into the Clackamas County Homeless Solutions Coalition. All of the coalition members over the years have pointed to the fact that we need more services for mentally ill, drug addicted and homeless people."
Private property owners' encroachment on public land is not an issue unique to the McLoughlin neighborhood of Oregon City. Officials currently are addressing the issue in another historic neighborhood to the south, Canemah.
Cameron McCredie, a real-estate agent and chair of the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association, declined to discuss any specific cases but was willing to address the issue in general. He said that people who choose to buy property next to public amenities like parks or walking paths should be aware that they will get the convenience of enjoying these amenities, but also the downsides of any member of the public being able to use these public features, too.
"Making any indication that public land is private is egregious, and it's up to the city to make sure to enforce property lines," he said. "It's important that public land be better identified for use of the public and not allow private encroachment."
Renters now seeking more socially distanced single-family homes could be a factor in pushing median sale prices up from $411,600 to $445,000 during the past year in the metro area. Other states have had issues with fewer listings pushing up prices, as a shortage of new supply on the housing market puts pressure on the demand side. That, however, has not been the case in Oregon.
McCredie said it may seem like the state has had fewer homes on the market since March, but the numbers say different. In July 2019, the metro area saw 3,966 homes go on the market, but there were 4,236 new listings this July.
"With the available low interest rates and continued population growth, metro Portland remains a tight housing market," McCredie said.
As for the homelessness situation, McCredie hoped that city and county officials might be able to do more to encourage homeless services outside of central Oregon City.
"We support efforts to take care of homeless people, but the McLoughlin neighborhood shouldn't be the only place providing them services," he said. "The entire city should be sharing the love and not expecting them all to congregate in our neighborhood."
This story has been updated from its original version online to include comments from Jay Pearce.
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