Now that there will be no park on Barrett Drive, the ball is back in the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District’s court.
The Hood River County Commission made its rejection of the proposed 30-acre park official last week at a special meeting.
The commission’s decision came with a 4-0 vote, with commissioner Bob Benton, who had preliminarily voted to reject the park, absent.
The Parks and Recreation District Board will now hold a meeting Sept. 12 to determine whether or not to appeal the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
The vote came after last-ditch comments by Parks and Recreation Director Lori Stirn to the commission, in which she told the commission the parks district would still be building a trail on the property and would likely lose a significant grant if the park were not approved.
“We do have a conditional-use permit for a trail on the perimeter of the property which we will continue to install,” Stirn told the commission. “We’ve had the property for three years and had it leased out as an orchard but that three years is the limit for leasing out lottery-funded recreational land.
“So we pulled the trees out because we are a parks district. We have had it vacant for the last two years and we’re going to go ahead and work on the trail...and that trail will be in.”
She added that the proposed park had recently been selected as a finalist for a $494,000 improvement grant from Oregon Parks and Recreation, but that the money could only be used for that park and was non-transferable.
“Parks district did apply for another grant and we just received notice we were a qualifier for a $494K improvement grant and that is basically a lot of excavation and moving the dirt and all that stuff. If the park does not have any further improvements on it the district would lose that $494,000 grant,” she said.
As a matching grant, the total funds through the grant would be about $800,000, according to the Parks and Recreation department.
Stirn said that the commission’s rejection of the park would not force the parks district to sell the property and that the land could be used for a ball field complex if a parks master plan was approved by the county and included the site.
The commission’s order reversing the planning commission’s approval of the park focused on several points, including the planning commission’s failure to consider the effect of the loss of high-value farmland on “surrounding lands” and not just “adjacent lands.”
The commission took the view that surrounding lands would include “the entirety of the EFU land in the county. The county is one of the smallest is in the state and agricultural base is small. A loss of farm land would affect the entire county; not just the immediately adjacent property owners.”
The commission also took exception to the Parks and Recreation District’s plan to cut and redistribute over 21,000 cubic yards of topsoil from the site, saying that “dirt is not dirt” and that such a strategy would cause the land to “never again be high-value farmland and this activity will commit this property to non-agricultural use.”
Stirn said regardless of whether the land is used as a park, it is unlikely to ever again be used for agricultural use.
“I think the orchard will never be there again; the parks district is going to land-bank it,” Stirn said, adding: “It appears that if you work with us ... to develop a ball field complex it could be allowed if there was a master plan approved by the county on this site.”
At the end of Stirn’s comments, commission chairman Ron Rivers reminded her that the start of a process to identify alternative sites for a ball field complex in the county was on the meeting’s agenda.
The commission did begin that discussion following a vote to reject the park, with a large map hanging on the wall showing potential properties of 30 acres not on high-value exclusive farm use-zoned land which could be suitable for a ball field complex.
Initial discussion ranged from Odell (“The majority of the county’s population does live outside city limits,” Rivers said), to the property which was formerly being considered for a Super Walmart off Country Club Road — still owned by Walmart. (“It’s a great idea but they’ve never responded to us,” Stirn said.)
Stirn said Parks and Recreation was looking for property that was at least 30 acres, off of a collector road, and for sale — all three conditions which the Barrett Drive property met.
‘‘We’d be happy to work with you guys,” Stirn said.
“I think this is a really good start,” Rivers said to bring a close to the meeting. “We’re not against ball fields.”