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State Parks says Barrett Park grant could be used for alternate HR site

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has decided to hold off on executing a grant agreement for Barrett Park while the state tries to figure out if Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District’s proposed development for the land still qualifies for funding — or if the money should be used to develop another site of HRVPRD’s choosing.

The announcement was made last week in a reply letter sent from Steve Kay, OPRD’s division manager of its Recreation Grants and Community Programs, to Polly Wood, president of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. Wood had written OPRD last month asking that the state not execute a $494,000 grant agreement for the development of Barrett Park, arguing that HRVPRD’s original proposal “did not have local land use approval,” and that the scope of HRVRPD’s current plans for the park — construction of radio-controlled flyer facilities and improvements to a current trail on the property — are not consistent with the plans submitted in the original grant application in 2012. Those plans were greatly reduced in scope late last year after the Hood River County Board of Commissioners voted to not award a conditional use permit that would have allowed greater development of the property.

Kay replied in his letter to Wood that “while land use approvals are not required to be in place at the time when a grant application is submitted, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) recognizes that land use compatibility issues were not adequately evaluated prior to the award. As a result, OPRD has delayed the execution of this grant agreement with the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District (HRVPRD) until there is clarity on which project elements are allowed under existing zoning and are proposed for development.”

However, Kay also wrote that “additional evaluation of how the awarded grant funds can be applied to a project needs to be undertaken,” and that HRVPRD “will discuss the option of directing the grant funds to another site with the HRVPRD Board at their May 21st meeting.”

Chris Havel, associate director of OPRD, said that in other words, the grant money originally designated for Barrett Park could be used to develop another property, provided the scope of the development matched what HRVPRD originally proposed: a park that included athletic fields, community gardens, a mountain bike skills development area, and other features.

“We are working with Hood River Parks and Rec on options to apply the money for its intended purpose — athletic fields — on property in the district instead of at Barrett Park,” he wrote in an email.

“Our interest here is that the community’s needs for outdoor recreation are met,” Havel further explained in a follow-up phone interview, “and that’s not tied to one particular property.”

When asked if a portion of the money could still be used for a portion of Barrett Park, as well as to develop a yet-to-be-determined alternate parcel, Havel answered, yes, but that “we don’t know what mix it’s going to be, if any at all.”

Havel has been the associate director of OPRD for nearly 20 years and said he couldn’t recall there ever being a situation during his tenure where OPRD has had to go through a process like this.

“It’s a very unusual situation,” he noted.

HRVPRD got into this situation primarily due to the complexities surrounding the 31.4-acre property’s zoning, which was classified exclusive farm use as it was formerly the site of a fruit orchard. HRVPRD originally saw the property, which it bought in 2007, as a potential site for developed ball fields, but the county nixed the proposal. HRVPRD tried again in 2012 with a proposal that included more informal playfields and it passed the Hood River County Planning Commission by a slim 4-3 margin.

However, local orchardists Fritz and JoAnn von Lubken appealed the decision over concerns that the park would harm agricultural practices and eventually, county commissioners voted to not approve HRVPRD’s application for the conditional use permit. In March of this year, HRVPRD applied for a land use permit to build one of the few options it had left — an RC flyer field and related support facilities — but that was appealed by HRVRC in April over new issue of land use compliance and is currently awaiting a planning commission hearing on June 11.

HRVPRD Director Lori Stirn said she was pleased at how flexible OPRD has been regarding the administration of the grant.

“The idea that State Parks is willing to change the location is quite rare,” she said, “and that would be great.”

Though HRVPRD may be able to use the grant to develop another park site, the money cannot be used to acquire the property. In October 2007, HRVPRD received a $325,800 retroactive acquisition grant to purchase Barrett Park and the money has long been spent. Stirn said HRVPRD would likely rely on the funds it receives from system development charges to purchase an alternate property. Stirn added that a date hadn’t been set in stone as to when HRVPRD needed to acquire a new property, but she said OPRD suggested HRVPRD identify a new property within a year and a half.

When asked if HRVPRD would consider selling Barrett Park and use the funds from the sale to purchase another property, Stirn replied that the decision “would be up to the [HRVPRD] Board,” but noted board members would likely not be interested in selling the parcel. Stirn referred to a resolution that board members adopted in December of last year that holds the land “in perpetuity for park and recreation purposes.”

Stirn said HRVPRD has “other properties in mind” it would consider for purchase, but wouldn’t delve into specifics, other than remarking that it was “safe to say I don’t think we’ll be buying an orchard,” referring to HRVPRD’s past and present — and possibly future — headaches associated with the Barrett Park property. Stirn added the board and HRVPRD staff will likely be discussing potential properties during the executive session planned for HRVPRD’s next board meeting Wednesday, May 21, 7 p.m. at the Aquatic Center located at 1601 May St. in Hood River.

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