PCC moves to condemn land for campus
Portland Community College's board of directors initiated condemnation proceedings last week to acquire private land targeted for the college's new Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center campus near the Scappoose airport.
The action, which was approved at a PCC business meeting by resolution Thursday, Sept. 19, comes little more than a month after the landowner, SPB Holdings LLC, reportedly backed out of a property sale with the community college that had been in the works for nearly a year.
SPB Holdings is registered to Mike and Judith Dennis, founders of Oregon Aero Inc. Oregon Aero is an aviation-focused fabricator with operations based at Scappoose Industrial Airpark.
Messages left for Mike and Judith Dennis at Oregon Aero were not returned by the Spotlight's press time Thursday.
The approved resolution directs PCC staff to submit a 40-day condemnation offer letter to SPB Holdings. A spokesman for the college confirmed the letter was hand-delivered earlier this week, on Tuesday.
Next, PCC will make a final offer to purchase the 17-acre lot based upon an independent appraisal. If SPB Holdings still refuses to sell within the 40-day period, PCC will exercise its public use eminent domain authority as outlined in the approved resolution. The eminent domain process is defined in state law.
The owners would ultimately receive just compensation for the land, per the law.
"The Board attempted to acquire the Subject Property by a purchase and sale agreement ... which was agreed to by the owner on October 22, 2018," the PCC resolution states.
It continues, "The owner recently reneged and refused to close in escrow the purchase and sale agreement after the District staff had spent five months obtaining approval by the City of Scappoose for the construction of the OMIC and engaged a construction contractor (which contract is now in 'delay' status)."
PCC declined to elaborate on what damage, financial or otherwise, it has suffered from the reneged sale. Spotlight requests for the purchase and sale agreement were denied, with PCC citing public records law exemptions and litigation.
PCC has zeroed in on the SPB Holdings site on West Lane Road due to its close proximity to the OMIC Research & Development campus taking shape near Scappoose Industrial Airpark. PCC officials committed to building an education facility in Columbia County, parts of which — including Scappoose and St. Helens — are included in the community college's tax district, as a component of its $374 million bond package approved by voters in 2008.
Follow through on PCC's pledge has been spotty, however, with several proposed facilities never making their way off the drawing board. In 2016 PCC passed a resolution to purchase land in Columbia County for an education center, and in 2016 PCC joined with other stakeholders for the launch of OMIC R&D.
The college has planned to work closely with OMIC R&D to offer manufacturing apprenticeship programs. Construction was anticipated to begin this year, with classes starting in 2020.
"I'm really excited that PCC is locating in Scappoose. I think that's really important," said Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge. "I always prefer that it doesn't come down to an eminent domain situation."
Shortly following the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a decision in Connecticut allowing municipalities to condemn privately owned property on behalf of a private developer solely for economic development, Burge helped shepherd a revision to the Scappoose city charter prohibiting the city from condemning land for economic development purposes.
He notes a distinction with PCC's action, and said it is similar to a local school district condemning land needed for a new access road.
"I think it's more like a school district would have to condemn," he said. "It's clearly more for educational purposes than for economic development."
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