Fritz von Lubken says he doesn’t have anything against parks; he just believes they should not be built at the expense of high-value farmland.
That is why the Hood River orchardist and his wife, Joann, have appealed a Hood River County Planning Commission decision to allow the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation district to place 30-acre park near the intersection of Barrett Drive and Alameda Road.
The appeal will be heard by the Hood River County Board of Commissioners at an on the record hearing Monday at 6 p.m. at the County Administration Building in Hood River.
“We are running out of high-value farm land in Hood River … parks can go almost any place,” Von Lubken said Thursday. “Parks have the option for being placed in many different classifications of land but high value crops do not.”
Scott Baker, assistant director for Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation, said the Barrett and Alameda location offered numerous advantages any of the other possible sites could not, including access of a main road, a relatively flat grade and the opportunity to connect it to the Indian Creek trail.
If completed, the park would include open play fields, an off-leash dog play area, a community garden, bocce ball courts, a remote control flyer field, mountain bike skill development area, a playground and picnic shelters.
Under Oregon law, numerous non-farming uses are allowed on land zoned as exclusive farm use, including golf courses, playgrounds, landfills, dog kennels, wineries, personal airports, schools, churches and parks.
In 2007 Parks and Recreation purchased the Barrett Park property when it went on the market and earlier this year applied to the planning commission for permission to turn the land into a park.
Prior the Parks and Recreation purchase, the property was working orchard land but has since been cleared.
According to the county planning department, the planning commission was tasked with deciding whether the use of the land as a park met two criteria: 1) Did the use of the land as a park comply with Oregon law requiring conditional uses on EFU land to not “force significant change or significantly increase the cost of accepted farming practices on lands devoted to farm use,” and if it met the first criteria would the level of development and activities in the park meet the threshold of “passive and low intensity.”
The planning commission voted 4-3 that park use met the first criteria and 6-1 that it met the second.
Von Lubken says that having the park take over 30 acres of prime farm land will have a negative impact on agriculture in the Hood River valley.
“You can’t grow pears in The Dalles successfully or in Willamette Valley successfully or eastern Oregon successfully, but you can here because we have the right kind of soils,” he said. “Pears are very climatically located; they need the water and the soils and this happens to be perfect. It’s a very crucial area a very unique area from that standpoint.”
Baker admitted that using exclusive farm land “is nobody’s first choice” but that there was no other option outside of the Hood River urban growth boundary to situate the park that is not EFU-zoned land.
“If people want a park it’s going to be on EFU,” Baker said.
Parks and Recreation received a State Parks and Recreation grant to help offset the purchase of the property and has applied for an additional $494,000 grant to help with the construction of the park.
Baker is concerned if the appeal’s process goes beyond Monday’s hearing, that grant could be placed in jeopardy.
“If they hear the land use is in question they might choose to award a lower-scoring project which doesn’t have a land use question,” he said.
Von Lubken said he is not sure whether he will continue the appeal beyond the county level if the Board of Commissioners upholds the planning commission decision Monday.
What he is sure of, though, is that the Barrett Park property is the wrong place for a park.
“I don’t think we need to use high-value farmland to do those things; I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done,” he said of the recreational activities the park would be used for. “I just don’t think we should be using high-value farmland for it.”