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Darby Ridge development on hold, may become greenspace

Negotiations under way to preserve steep property as open space
by: Carole Archer, Paul Masulis, left, and Craig Smith stand on Masulis’ deck overlooking the 1,000-foot Gabbert Butte. The developer, Wellner-Morey Gresham I, has put his appeal on hold while exploring the possibility of selling the land to Metro.

The developer and property owners behind Darby Ridge, an 82-home subdivision on Gresham's steeply sloped Gabbert Butte, are now considering selling the land to Metro Regional Government.

It's a move that has elated residents in the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association who were outraged that the proposed development called for reshaping 40 percent of the hill by applying as much as 30 feet of fill to make the extremely steep slopes buildable.

Ed Sullivan, an attorney representing developer Wellner-Morey Gresham I, contacted Gresham Senior City Attorney Dave Ris to request city councilors put plans for the development on hold until mid or late February.

'We're looking at other options,' one of which is to sell the property to Metro, Sullivan said.

Delaying a decision until February would give Metro a chance to pass its bond on the November ballot, said Gary Shepherd, a land-use attorney hired by resident Craig Smith to fight Darby Ridge.

'It's everyone's understanding that it's a high priority for Metro,' Shepherd said. ' … It's exactly what we were trying to get done … to stop, take a look and recognize the value of this property.'

Just two days before Sullivan requested the delay, he was arguing the merits of his client's case before Gresham city councilors on Tuesday, Oct. 17, during a four-plus hour appeal hearing.

Gresham planning commissioners on Sept. 11 denied the project, citing everything from tree-removal, access and density issues.

Located on 38-acres northwest of Regner and Butler roads, the development calls for 82 homes that would sell for between $450,000 and $600,000.

After planning commissioners denied the project, the developer appealed the ruling to city councilors, citing 11 points of contention.

City staff members, who previously recommended that the planning commission approve the development, did an about-face and recommended that councilors deny the appeal, albeit carefully. As Ris said, planning commissioners' interpretations of city code varied from previous ones, so the council's decision could affect future code interpretations.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, councilors decided they needed more time to make such a landmark decision. The applicant granted a 30-day extension to the 120-day window Gresham had to decide the case. Councilors then voted 5-2 to close the hearing and set deliberations over until Thursday, Oct. 26.

If Metro purchases the property previously slated for Darby Ridge, it would help the regional government and Gresham add more land to its growing network of open space.

Metro owns a swath of property west of the proposed subdivision, with Gresham owning property to the north and south. A number of private citizens own property to the east, but further east Metro and Gresham have assembled a patchwork of property to be preserved as parkland, trails and open space, including 40 acres on top of scenic Hogan Butte.

The city and Metro used the last of the proceeds from a 1995 bond to purchase the first large chunk of Hogan Butte property. Now Metro is asking voters to approve another bond on the Nov. 7 ballot that would raise $227 million for open space acquisitions over the next 20 years.

Robb Courtney, Gresham's parks and recreation manager, said Gresham and Metro tried to buy the Gabbert Butte property, but couldn't agree on a price with the property owner.

'If Metro's bond passes and land becomes available, it would be something of interest to us,' Courtney said.

Metro Councilor Rod Park said he doesn't want to make any promises regarding the purchase of Gabbert Butte and could neither confirm nor deny the property negotiations.

However, he did say that Metro historically purchases land on steep sloped buttes that are better preserved than developed.

'They're natural treasures,' Parks said. ' … We'll just have to see how it all shakes out.'