Park for sale - Gresham can save natural gem
One of Gresham's foremost tree experts was like a kid in a candy store early in November when he visited one of the city's natural areas.
Jim Buck, chairman of the Gresham Urban Forestry subcommittee, had a beaming smile as he scrambled through brambles and pointed out trees on the Lind-Carpenter Property, in the Kelly Creek Neighborhood, 3842 S.E. Hillyard St., at the corner of Barnes and Hillyard.
There was a stand of towering Hogan cedars, Gresham's official tree; redwood maples and Sitka spruce; oaks and elms. One walnut tree that blew over in the late 1990s during a brutal storm just kept growing even as it lay on the ground.
"There are so many fabulous trees and shrubs," Buck said. "There are specimens here you won't see anywhere else in this area."
Perhaps Buck's favorite was found near the edge of the property. The tree that wowed him was a Camperdownii, known as a Camperdown elm, that was particularly impressive. Native to Scotland, Camperdowns are weeping elms with gorgeous, twisted branches and dense foliage. They resemble ornate umbrellas, and the one in Gresham has a particularly complex pattern of branches.
"The weaving of the limbs is just phenomenal," Buck said of the Camperdown he estimated to be about 80 years old. "All of these are heritage trees, they need to be preserved and appreciated."
Cornucopia of plants
The city of Gresham is in a position to do just that, as the Lind-Carpenter Property is available for purchase.
Originally 12 acres of former farm and nursery land, the city bought the southern half of the property in 1998, with visions of turning it into a park. That plan has been delayed, and it remains undeveloped. The owners want to sell the remaining six acres to the city to create something special and avoid potential ugly development.
"I would like this to be a park the community could use and visit," said Debbie Carpenter, who owns the property with her sister. "I think it should be combined with the existing park to the south. This could be a mini-Oxbow (regional park)."
The land was settled in 1879 as a homestead for Debbie's great grandfather, Olaf Fredrick Lind, and began as a cow farm where the animals would graze in the field. Her father built a home in 1942, and created a nursery on the property. He cultivated many unique plants and trees, many of which are still thriving today. Buck said that has created a unique mix of flora not found anywhere else in Gresham.
"Once the nursery closed, the stock kept growing," Carpenter said.
"You never see specimens like these get to this size," added Jeff Hardin, her husband. "There are a cornucopia of plants here."
Carpenter and her sister are ready to negotiate with the city. Multnomah County assessors valued the property around $3 million, but the sellers are flexible with that price and are willing to negotiate.
And as neighbors excitedly plan what a future park could look like, and developers pounding on the door to buy the land for homes, Carpenter just wants to sit down with the city to discuss a sale — but she isn't sure where to start. At this point she hasn't gotten much of a response from city officials. The officials who worked with the family to buy half the land back in the '90s are long gone.
Neighbors have taken the issue to the Gresham City Council, which voiced support for the idea of protecting the land. Neighbors also plan to bring the issue before the new Gresham Parks and Recreation Community Advisory Group.
But Carpenter would love a concrete contact within City Hall to really hammer out the details. "This property is worth holding onto," she said.
It's not hard to imagine a nightmare scenario for the Lind-Carpenter Property — no one wants another Shaull Woods.
The 7.82-acre Shaull Property, 3535 W. Powell Blvd., known as Shaull Woods, is one of the natural gems in Gresham. The greenspace abuts Southwest Community Park, the Fairview Creek Headwaters and the Grant Butte Wetlands, and according to experts nearly 100 species of wildlife call the area home. The centerpiece of the Shaull Property is a towering stand of Douglas fir trees.
But all that came under threat after the city failed to purchase the property when it was on the market. As Gresham worked through its sometimes slow process of making a bid, the Shaull owners couldn't wait. The site was sold to SGS LLC, a Bend developer, whose plans included chopping down the trees and building 30 houses on the site. All of that spurred a public outcry to save the Shaull Woods, and this summer the city bought the land for $2.5 million — more than double its initial value.
The main difference for the Lind-Carpenter Property is the sellers are willing to wait. "Developers have been knocking on the door for years, but we aren't seeking the highest price," Carpenter said. "We could have sold it by now — it's been 23 years."
"But we don't want to see a developer come in and do scorched-earth," Hardin added.
The goal is to protect the land as a public acquisition, and they want to work with the city to make that happen. For 23 years they have been treading water with the land, doing some minor farming and upkeep, but they are ready to negotiate. Now all it will take is a response from the city.
"We have held onto this place for so long because we don't want to see it get torn down," Carpenter said.
Untamed and wild
The Kelly Creek Neighborhood Association has helped spread information about the property, and informal early feedback from the public has shown an overwhelming consensus to protect the natural area. Neighbors want the city to step up and buy the rest of the land, combining the two undeveloped parks into a large parcel that could then be built up with community support.
"This could become a model for how the community and city can purchase and save these parks in the most financially stable way," said Carol Rulla, land-use director of the Kelly Creek Neighborhood.
Kelly Creek does not have an active park, though there are two undeveloped ones — Southeast Neighborhood Park, which is the half of the Lind-Carpenter Property bought by the city 25 years ago, and Southeast Community Park.
"A lot of people don't really know where the city 'park' ends and our property begins," Carpenter said.
The land is untamed and wild, but there are some amazing plants and animals to discover. There are wooded areas, some old farm structures, a small pond and wetlands, and meadows tucked away in the foliage. With a little bit of cash and planning, many neighbors believe the park could become a special place. And they are willing to help out, foreseeing a public process of finding funding, making plans, and maintaining the grounds similar to what took place at Nadaka Nature Park in Rockwood.
Kelly Creek is one of the neighborhoods in Gresham most in need of trees. Despite being in the rural eastside of the city, the former farms that made up the neighborhood left large swaths of open land. The old nursery is one of the few tree sanctuaries in the area.
"The city is deficient in terms of our tree canopy, and we need to preserve it in places like this were a great tree canopy already exists," Buck said.
In the end, owners of the Lind-Carpenter Property want the city to come to the table and talk. "We aren't saying it has to be bought today, but we want to see a culmination point in my lifetime," Carpenter said.
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