Community members pulled markers from plastic cups and wrote messages on white crosses. "Save our trees." "I am your heritage. Don't cut me down." "Trees breathe too."
Just behind Hallinan Elementary School, Lake Oswego residents rallied together Monday, Sept. 21, to encourage the city to purchase the Yates property adjacent to Hallinan Woods, a move they hope would prevent the removal of more than 100 trees and development of six homes.
People placed the white crosses — which represent what people would miss if the property was developed — along the trail through the Hallinan Woods area.
"Now we need city council to act because the trees are about to come down on this property," said Lake Oswego resident Natalie Bennon, who helped organize the rally. "We still want (the property) even if that happens, but it will be much more valuable for us, for the wildlife, for clean air, for climate change, for many, many community values, if we just act now and conserve this property."
Organizers expressed the importance of preserving the undeveloped piece of land and gave some mayoral and city council candidates a chance to speak in support of the acquisition.
Candidates in attendance were Massene Mboup, Joe Buck, Rachel Verdick, Emma Burke and John LaMotte.
"Buying a park that protects the environment has no price," said City Council candidate Mboup. "We need our environment to be healthy; there is no negotiation."
Hallinan Woods currently consists of 3.75 acres of public wooded area directly north of Hallinan Elementary, and includes a stream and walking trails. The neighbors are seeking to expand the site by having the city purchase an adjacent two-acre piece of wooded property located directly north of the main portion of the park.
The private property is separated from Hallinan Woods by a chain-link fence along its southern and eastern perimeters, but it is mostly undeveloped and visually indistinguishable from the rest of the area. The neighbors have argued that the public and private sections are one contiguous wooded area and should be treated as such.
The private property was purchased in 2013 for $750,000 with the intention of eventually developing it for housing. The proposed development would split the parcel into six pieces, with six new homes scheduled for construction and an access lane to connect the subdivision to Yates Street.
Neighbors and residents have been trying to convince the city for years to purchase the property so the space can remain natural, and the effort has ramped up again as development plans take shape.
Last weekend, crews were clearing underbrush, beginning the work for the first removal of 27 trees.
"We (supporters) think it's a strategic buy. There's some people that have been saying it's not a strategic buy. We think it is for a lot of reasons, including serving all the kids in the city because they can get here by bus, where (with) many of our other natural areas you can't get there by bus," said City Councilor John LaMotte. "We had an executive session last week and we instructed staff to go do outreach and negotiate with the owners. That was done and our city manager is now involved. She reached out to the owners and unfortunately, we're very far apart on price."
LaMotte said he could not reveal much detail at the moment, but said while some council members want this park, they feel it needs to be acquired at the right price. He said there needs to be a "delicate balance" on pricing between what the owners want and what the city can pay.
"They did not really open up their mind or heart to work with us," LaMotte said. "We have seen appraisals that are talking about finished lots that have sewer and water and roads in them, and we see it as raw land and 'How do we really get the right price for the citizens of Lake Oswego?' So that's where we're at."
City Manager Martha Bennett said the City Council is aware of the community's interest in the property.
"There's interest on the council in revisiting this particular piece of property," Bennett said.
According to Bennon, the asking price was approximately $2.4 million the last time the property was listed.
"The property is within a habitat cluster, identified by the city's parks department," read a press release from Bennon. "Funding is available through the parks bond and system development charges. And there is no other property currently for sale that is awaiting acquisition funds."
City Council President Jackie Manz said if the city did decide to purchase the property, the area would remain natural and wouldn't be turned into a more developed area like Iron Mountain or Woodmont Natural Park.
"People feel very, very passionate (that) this may be one of the last of these spaces. It's accessible and that's the important part," Manz said. "To have this where people with strollers, younger children, older folks of many different socio-economic backgrounds can get to, it seems like it's a super important way to take care of our citizens."
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