West Linn-Wilsonville School Board puts Oppenlander property up for sale
This story has been updated.
Following community outcry, the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board will hold an executive session next week to discuss the impending sale of the Oppenlander property.
The 10-acre property was the talk of the town this past week, as the school board announced it was for sale and many community members expressed concern about the future of the land that's been a staple of local youth sports for nearly 50 years.
The West Linn City Council held a special meeting Thursday, May 27 to discuss the topic and stated that it was interested in acquiring the property through a voter-approved bond measure. On the heels of that meeting, School Board Chair Regan Molatore released a statement late Friday afternoon.
"It is important for our community to know that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District has a long and positive relationship with the City of West Linn. This will continue," Molatore said in the statement. "Both the City and the District share mutual priorities in maintaining healthy and vibrant neighborhoods for the children, families and patrons of the community.
"Because of this mutually respectful and collaborative relationship, the Board will convene an executive session meeting during the first week in June in response to the City's public statement on May 27th, expressing continued interest in the purchase of the Oppenlander property."
Molatore added that the meeting will not be public, but the board's decision will be announced to the public.
In March 2020, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District tasked the Long Range Planning Committee with reviewing all district properties that were marked for potential new school locations and educational programs. The committee concluded that all but one of the district's properties met current and future needs for school or educational program sites. Oppenlander was that property.
WL-WV Chief Operating Officer Pat McGough said the property doesn't work as a potential school site for a number of reasons.
Though it was originally purchased in 1973 to meet future school district needs, the expansion of the district into Wilsonville left little use for the site.
Due to its size, Oppenlander can only be considered for a primary school location. With two relatively new primary schools, Sunset and Trillium Creek, less than two miles apart, McGough said there wasn't a need for another primary school site in the area.
In 1978, the district developed the Oppenlander site with sports fields for use by West Linn High School and city-sponsored youth sports. The informal agreement between the district and the city to split the costs of irrigation is still in effect today. No formal agreement was ever made.
The district stopped using the Oppenlander site for sports in 2009 after artificial turf was installed at West Linn High School and Rosemont Ridge Middle School.
"Today, Oppenlander is only used for youth sports and casual community use," McGough said.
McGough said that though he couldn't speak for the city of West Linn, he knew leaders at city hall were aware that the property is up for sale.
After community members expressed a great deal of concern about the sale of the property, the West Linn City Council announced Thursday, May 27 that it was interested in purchasing the property from the district through a general obligation bond, but that proposal did not fit with the district's timeline.
"The school board approached the West Linn City Council and offered to sell the city the property at the appraised value of $6.5 million," Mayor Jules Walters said at a meeting Thursday. "The City Council discussed this in confidential executive session, as it does all real estate matters. The offer far exceeded funds readily available to the city in the budget for a land purchase."
According to Walters, the district was at first agreeable to the city pursuing Oppenlander through a GO bond, but later informed the council that waiting for a November bond vote did not fit the board's timeline.
In her statement, Molatore provided the board's perspective on those negotiations.
"On April 19, both the City Council and the Board had their own executive sessions. At each session, the potential sale/purchase of Oppenlander was discussed," Molatore wrote. "The Board concluded at its executive session that for two reasons they needed to pass on the City's request: first, the lack of commitment that the land be exclusively retained as a park; and second, the timing of waiting until November for any purchase certainty."
According to Molatore, the city told the district that multi-use housing, a maintenance yard, an aquatic center or "other pressing needs" would be prioritized over park use if the city acquired the land.
The council noted at Thursday's meeting that it was still interested in asking the community to decide to purchase the property through a bond vote, if the board changed its mind.
Community members felt the board was acting too quickly to sell the property, and with little-to-no community engagement.
Dean Suhr, a former Rosemont Summit Neighborhood Association president who lives next door to the Oppenlander fields, emailed the school board Wednesday informing the body about the community's uneasiness about the sale of the property.
"We know Oppenlander Fields was most recently publicly discussed in October 2020 by the Long Range Planning Committee, but there is nothing in the notes from that meeting or any subsequent LRPC meeting stating a recommendation to sell," Suhr wrote. "Nor could I find any mention of Oppenlander, or for that matter any feedback on any of the LRPC's October meeting in any subsequent School Board minutes."
Suhr acknowledged that Oregon public meetings law allows agencies to discuss property transactions in closed executive session, but stated "authorizing sale of such a significant asset would require some sort of public discussion and advance disclosure."
Abby Farber, current president of the RSNA, said the neighborhood body will hold a meeting on this issue Thursday, June 3. Oppenlander lies within the RSNA boundary.
Farber said she moved to West Linn after her kids were grown up, so they never participated in sports at Oppenlander. But she was still concerned about the sale of the property and the manner in which the community learned about it.
"The idea of losing park land in an area where people really appreciate parks and fields and things like that is a major issue," Farber said, noting that she does not universally disapprove of development.
The bigger concern for Farber is the apparent lack of transparency in the district's decision to sell Oppenlander.
"Does the public have a say in things or do we not when public lands are being sold?" she asked. "It feels to me like the process has been unduly fast tracked."
According to McGough, the district expects to have bids in to the broker by June 2, but he said he wouldn't call that date a deadline.
"While it seems like a short notice, this has been in progress for quite some time," he said. McGough noted he's unsure what community members want. The Long Range Planning Committee, which is made up of community members, includes a public process. He said committee meetings, like school board meetings, are open to the public.
Money received from the sale would be held in the district's budget for future land purchases.
All parties interested in buying the land can contact Nicholas Diamond at Capacity Commercial Group for information.
West Linn residents, however, are looking to halt this process in its tracks. Suhr created a petition Wednesday, May 26, the day after the district announced it intended to sell the property, asking WL-WV to pause the real estate process for 60 days to allow the community to weigh in.
Within 12 hours, Suhr's petition had gained 500 signatures.
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