As bond vote approaches, legal battle for Oppenlander fields continues
As West Linn residents cast their ballots this week on a bond measure for the city of West Linn to purchase Oppenlander fields, the legal battle over the property continues between the city and West Linn-Wilsonville School District.
The city has asked West Linn voters to approve a $3.5 million bond measure, which would allow the city to purchase Oppenlander Fields from the school district and perform a number of improvements to the facility. The district, however, was unhappy with the appraisal process that led to the sale price and opted to challenge it in court.
Though the district initially filed its complaint in court on Feb. 25 and issued an intent to move for default April 22 if the city did not reply by May 5, the city filed its answers and affirmative defense on May 9. The district sued in Clackamas County Circuit Court, claiming the city violated the purchase and sale agreement by failing to obtain a new appraisal by Dec. 31, 2021, as the agreement spelled out. However, the city pointed out that the district had not officially signed the agreement at this point. The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board approved the agreement Jan. 10, 2022.
"By executing its agreement with defendant after December 31, 2021, plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily waived the deadline for completion of the property valuation and other timeliness provisions of the agreement," the city's response stated.
The city also denied the district's claim that the most recent appraisal, conducted by Romanaggi Evaluation Services, was biased in favor of the city and undervalued the property.
Oppenlander, a 10-acre parcel on Rosemont Road used primarily for youth sports over the last 40 years, became a hot-button issue last year when the community learned the district had put the property up for sale. Dismayed at the idea of the fields falling into the hands of a property developer, community members pressured the city and school district to strike an agreement and preserve the property.
For several months the district and city worked together on a purchase and sale agreement which stated the city would ask voters to approve the purchase of the land in a bond vote. If the bond vote failed, the district would be free to sell the property on the open market. But the apparent collaboration between the two agencies stalled in January when a new appraisal came back, valuing the property at a mere $120,000. Last spring the land was appraised at $6.5 million and the district expected the new appraisal to result in a similar, if not greater, figure.
The gulf of more than $6 million in the two appraisal figures came about due to a stipulation in the purchase and sale agreement stating the property would be designated as park or open space under Chapter 11 of the West Linn City Charter if voters passed the bond measure. Chapter 11 would mandate the property remain park land unless West Linn voters decided otherwise in an official election.
The bond vote
Despite a statement in favor of the ballot measure in the May 17 election voters pamphlet, which states 95% of funds from this bond would go to capital improvements at parks across the city, the city has stated that it expects most or all of the bond funds at Oppenlander. If some funds remain after the purchase and upgrades of Oppenlander, the remaining funds could be spent at other city parks.
"Any funds remaining after completing the Oppenlander project may be used at other City park properties, but Oppenlander work is expected to represent the majority of expenses," West Linn Deputy City Manager John Williams clarified in an email.
If passed (go to westlinntidings.com for the latest results), the bond funds would result in a property tax levy rate increase of 5 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. Property taxes would increase by about $20 per year for the average homeowner in West Linn with a home valued at $386,000 (assessed value not real market).
If the bond does not pass, the purchase and sale agreement between the district and city would automatically terminate and the district could sell Oppenlander to another buyer.
The city did not respond to multiple inquiries about what would happen if the bond vote prevailed but the court ruled in favor of the district.
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