As of Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The long Barrett Park saga could finally be coming to an end as early as next week.
The Hood River County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Oct. 9 to hear testimony regarding the potential impact the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District’s Barrett Park proposal would have on surrounding farm lands. According to Mike Benedict, director of the planning commission, a decision made by the planning commission during the meeting “would be final, unless it is appealed.”
Progress on the 31.4-acre Barrett Park on the west side of Hood River has stalled as the approval of HRVPRD’s conditional use permit needed for the park’s development has been tied up in appeals and other issues for well over a year.
Barrett Park Timeline:
2005: Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District identifies acquiring land for play fields as a number-one priority. HRVPRD begins searching the county for suitable property to fill this need.
Summer 2007: HRVPRD purchases a 31.4-acre parcel of orchard land at 4010 Barrett Drive. In October, HRVPRD receives a $325,800 acquisition grant from the state for the park.
Late 2010: After continuing to lease the land for three years as an orchard, HRVPRD ends the lease and removes the fruit trees from the property due to grant provisions.
Spring 2011: Meetings are held by HRVPRD to hear the public’s suggestions on what kind of recreation facilities should be developed at Barrett Park.
July 2011: HRVPRD looks to form Barrett Park committee.
May 2012: The Hood River County Planning Commission approves HRVPRD’s conditional use permit to develop the park.
August 2012: The Hood River County Board of Commissioners hears an appeal from local orchardists Fritz and JoAnn von Lubken regarding the planning commission’s decision. County commissioners vote to reverse the approval of the permit.
September 2012: HRVPRD appeals the board of commissioners’ decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
May 2013: LUBA finds the board of commissioners made several errors when hearing the von Lubkens’ appeal and remands the decision back to the county.
HRVPRD purchased the land — a former orchard located near the intersection of Alameda Road and Barrett Drive — back in 2007 with the help of a grant. Fruit trees were removed in late 2010 and other landscaping was done on the parcel with the hopes that it would one day be a site for ball fields and/or other recreational uses.
In May 2012, the planning commission narrowly approved HRVPRD’s application for a conditional use permit for the development of the park, but the decision was appealed by Fritz and JoAnn von Lubken. The von Lubkens, who operate an orchard in Hood River, asserted that the high-value farmland zoned Exclusive Farm Use where the park is located is rare and much more valuable as agricultural, not recreational land, and thereby not an appropriate site for a park.
In early August 2012, county commissioners decided 4-1 in a preliminary vote to overturn the planning commission’s decision to award the conditional use permit to HRVPRD. In September 2012, HRVPRD appealed the board of commissioners’ decision to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals, fearing the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money if the park’s conditional use permit was not approved. LUBA issued a judgment in May 2013 and found the board of commissioners made several procedural errors during the appeal hearing in August 2012 and remanded (sent back) the decision to the county, with the option that it could be remanded to the planning commission.
Benedict explained that “what the county erred in was not providing enough information on farm operations in the area” as well as potential impacts the park may have on surrounding farms. Specifically, Benedict said the requirements of Oregon Revised Statue 215.296 were not adequately addressed, which states that the use of the land for a public park could be denied if it was demonstrated that such a proposal would: “(a) Force a significant change in accepted farm or forest practices on surrounding lands devoted to farm or forest use; or (b) Significantly increase the cost of accepted farm or forest practices on surrounding lands devoted to farm or forest use.”
Testimony from the public must specifically be limited to these items and cannot stray into other Barrett Park issues, according to Benedict.
“It is a very narrow hearing,” he explained, adding that, “Whether they want a park or not is immaterial.”
He also noted that “farming on the park parcel itself or the loss of farmland because of the park is not considered.”
Benedict said the planning commission “generally” makes a decision the same night as the hearing, but said there are “a number of things that could cause them to delay the decision.” He cautioned that “if the hearing got really clogged up with folks whose testimony is not on point, then it could cause the hearing to be continued to another night.”
Benedict also mentioned that the losing parties could, if they so desired, appeal the planning commission’s decision to the county commissioners.