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Park land, industry could replace golf course

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Golfers cross the Columbia Slough at the Colwood Golf Course. The North Portland green space is slated to be turned into park land and industrial space. If Don Goldberg pulls it off, golfers might be the only ones left complaining.

Goldberg, a senior project manager for the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands, is winning praise from neighborhood, business and environmental leaders for his bid to buy two-thirds of Colwood National Golf Course for a future park and rezone the rest of the site for industry.

The package deal ultimately could lead to a large public open space in Northeast Portland’s parks-starved Cully neighborhood, plus a rare “shovel-ready” industrial site next to Portland International Airport that could be host to 825 jobs.

Significant environmental and transportation hurdles remain, but Goldberg hopes to submit his proposal to the city within a month and seek a zone charge hearing next spring.

Public response has flipped 180 degrees from four years ago, when the Honolulu-based Saunders Family Trust asked the city to rezone its private golf course for industrial use. The golf course, still in use until the property sells, is zoned for open space.

“You had pretty much everyone outside of the business community last time fighting this land use application,” Goldberg says. “Now they’re all in support of it.”

Trust works out a deal

The 138-acre Colwood National Golf Course is north of Columbia Boulevard, and several blocks west of 82nd Avenue.

In 2008, the Saunders family sought to rezone 115.5 of the acres for industry. The Port of Portland was eying the site for a future airport runway. The remaining 22.5 acres straddling the Columbia Slough would be preserved and donated to the public.

Business interests welcomed the idea, but neighborhood and environmental groups tenaciously fought the loss of open space.

“The Cully neighborhood has the least amount of parks per citizen in any area of the city,” Goldberg notes, and ranks as Oregon’s most ethnically diverse community.

The Portland City Council unanimously rejected the zone change.

This time around, the Saunders family is letting the Trust for Public Lands work a deal on its behalf, and is willing to settle for less. The elephant in the room is gone, since the Port of Portland abandoned plans to seek a third airport runway, at least until 2035. That’s a relief to neighbors worried about noise from overhead airplanes.

The Trust for Public Land has a purchase option from the Saunders family to buy about 89 acres — four times as much land as before — to keep it in open space, Goldberg says. That would equate to an open space the size of Gabriel Park in Southwest Portland. The trust would expect ultimately to sell the site, for what it pays, to a government entity, perhaps the city of Portland.

To make the deal pencil out for the family, the Trust for Public Land wants the city to rezone 48 acres north of the slough for industry. That acreage is next to Portland International Airport, the same site once eyed for a runway. The Saunders trust is negotiating to sell that parcel to a large industrial developer, for use as manufacturing or warehouses, Goldberg says.

The deal, designed to give each party some of what it wants, won’t go through unless the zone change is approved, he says.

Cully activist Erwin Bergman, who has fought against the third runway proposal for years, welcomes this deal. “I’m willing to accept the loss of this 48 acres as a reasonable price to acquire the rest and leave it as an open space and park,” Bergman says. “I would say this is the most realistic option to basically pick up Colwood as a park.”

Important piece of dirt

The local economy sank into a deep recession in 2008, the same year the Saunders family lost its zone change application, and the need for jobs has risen. A new analysis, done in tandem with the city’s update of its comprehensive land use plan, concludes that Portland has a shortfall of industrial lands of about 630 acres.

Losing the chance to rezone more of Colwood for industry could be a “missed opportunity,” says Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association, a business association in the area. However, Collier realizes there’s little political chance that the 2008 proposal could ever pass. “This is about the best we’re going to be able to do,” he says. “I’m hoping it will work.”

The Audubon Society of Portland, which opposed the 2008 zone change, seems amenable to the compromise put forth by Goldberg.

“Generally speaking, Audubon does not support the conversion of open space to industrial use,” says Bob Sallinger, the group’s conservation director. “But in this case, we recognize that this may be the best outcome that’s possible on this site.”

One of Audubon’s concerns is the fate of a two-acre pond on the north side of the slough, in the proposed industrial parcel. Goldberg says that poses a safety hazard for planes overhead because it attracts birds. His proposal calls for filling the pond and replacing it with at least three acres of new wetlands in the protected area, near the southern slough bisecting the golf course.

Portland is working to develop Thomas Cully Park, a budding neighborhood park due south of Colwood on the opposite side of Columbia Boulevard. However, that site, a former landfill, is planned for community garden plots and active recreational use.

The sloughs traversing Colwood are seen as high-value habitat and natural areas.

The assumption is the land ultimately becomes a regional park owned by the city, or perhaps Metro.

The Trust for Public Land generally serves to keep land protected from development until it can be brought into public ownership. Having a nonprofit property developer as an intermediary also minimizes efforts to “soak” government entities seeking to acquire lands for the public.

The city of Portland isn’t part of the deal, Goldberg says, though it could be in the end.

“Colwood is an incredibly important piece of dirt,” says City Commissioner Nick Fish, now overseeing the city parks department. “It would be a very desirable location for a park, whether it’s a regional park or a city park.”

At 90 acres, it would be more than half the size of Washington Park, and nearly half the size of Mt. Tabor Park, two other Portland regional parks.

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