By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
News staff writer
March 4, 2006
Craig McBurney expected one of two things from the Hood River Valley Residents Committee at his March 2 collaboration meeting with them: Direct opposition to his ambitious plans to build a 40- to 80-acre mixed-use community in Mt. Hood, complete with million-dollar condos, low-income residences, an indoor sports facility and lots of solar panels.
That, or an endorsement of that goal.
If the Residents’ Committee (HRVRC) brought opposition to the China Gorge tables, McBurney was prepared to initiate a political campaign with signs that said “Boundary Yes.”
If the HRVRC members brought with them a letter of intent committing their endorsement of an unincorporated boundary around Mt. Hood, he was prepared to take that commitment to the county.
What he got was something in between.
“We don’t intend to dominate the conversation,” HRVRC member Mike McCarthy told him. “We’re here to listen. We have no position at this point … We’ll be watching this.”
The position of McCarthy and HRVRC is understandable.
McBurney isn’t sure at this point how many acres his project will span, how many people will live there or who will finance it. His group, the Mount Hood Residents Committee, just formed — unofficially — last week. And he wouldn’t say how many members comprise it.
“So far to date, I am the sole investor,” he said in an earlier interview.
Right now, he’s focused on getting that unincorporated boundary line, which he believes will make the property easier to develop, and thus more attractive to potential lenders.
Lenders are something McBurney will need to finance his $40 million community.
“I’m a broke guy because I tied up all my personal cash to get control of the properties,” he said. “I spent my last $30,000 to tie up the properties.”
Those properties include the 7.2 acres of 3G, the owners of the Mt. Hood Trailer Park. Currently, the fates of the trailer park and the score of families who live there is uncertain. McBurney wants to save them from homelessness or the Red Cross.
“That won’t close until June or July,” he told his audience. “I want it to close in the next five days so we can take control of that trailer park and help these people.”
He also wants to buy the Mt. Hood Country Store. And co-owner Dave Louiselle said his partners were in “informal talks” with him about it.
“Before Craig had come along, we had made a decision that this was a great time for a change,” said Karen Louiselle. “I’m not afraid of what I see.”
Mark White, owner of 10 acres east of Mt. Hood Towne Hall, is interested in the unincorporated boundary.
“It’s going to increase the value of my property,” White said. “Right now, I’m locked into farmland/EFU. And my land is all rocky. I can’t use it for farmland.”
Tying up these properties is the only strategy McBurney’s personal budget has afforded him. But it’s a good one, he insists, based on the synergistic principle that the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
“Let’s say there are two lots, priced at $50,000 each,” McBurney explained a few hours before the meeting. “By themselves, they are only worth $50,000. But if I can combine them into one, they might be worth $150,000 together because you can do more with them. That’s what I’m doing.”
He says he has 27 acres west of Highway 35 under contract.
To earn the trust of HRVRC and to be more eligible for the state grants and loans he’ll need to finance the low-income and affordable housing. McBurney said he’d consider forming a non-profit.
“I’m willing to make this a 501 c.3. and make myself the executive director,” he told his audience. “I’d pay myself a good salary. I don’t know. $200,000. I’d like to go to Mexico with my girlfriend and pay for my kids’ college … I’d like to dedicate this project to better uses than Craig buying a yacht in the Carribbean.”
McBurney first came to the Gorge from Washington, D.C. two years ago to film the NCAA sailing championships. He liked the Gorge. But he fell in love with a girl. And very quickly, he began spending more and more time at her Eugene Street house until he moved in six months ago.
He landed a job as a laborer, helping build the affordable housing project of Mike Kitts and Greg Crafts.
“Six weeks ago Craig was digging ditches for me,” Kitts told the HRVRC and Mt. Hood Residents Committee members. “But he’s got some good ideas that warrant some merit. And that’s why I’m here. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I gave him some advice. I told him to take it slow. He didn’t follow the advice.”
The question McBurney left on the U-shaped table Thursday was whether he was the man who could pull this kind of a project off. Back in D.C., he told his audience, he built six or seven houses. And he’s learned the development business from every relevant perspective.
“I’ve been anything from a developer to laborer to sales,” he said. “My objective is to carry the project from start to finish.”
He went to work for Kitts and Crafts on their affordable housing project for this purpose: to learn the market and gain some contacts, he said.
“He was trying to get his foot in the door,” Kitts said in an earlier interview. “He’s got a good vision. He’s just got to be able to pull it off. A lot of people have come to me asking ‘Who is Craig McBurney?’ I tell them ‘he’s got good ideas.’ He’s new and nobody knows him or what he’s done. That’s what he’s up against.”
The skepticism doesn’t worry McBurney. He says he’s used to it.
“There’s always a huge level of skepticism about the capabilities of a developer to build a project,” he said.