When Barbara Ansley-Vensas and her husband David Vensas, of Seattle, purchased a 40-acre parcel of land in southwestern Jefferson County back in July of 2000, they were assured that they would be able to build a home on the land.
"We wouldn't have purchased it if we couldn't build on it," Ansley-Vensas told the Jefferson County Commission Jan. 5, at a public hearing on the matter.
They had no reason to doubt that former County Planner Chris Bedsaul knew what he was doing when he told them that there would be no problem getting a conditional-use permit (CUP) to build a home on the property, where they could spend their vacations and eventually retire.
Instead, four and a half years later, they've spent nearly $100,000, on the property, plans and legal advice, and are no closer to owning that retirement home.
"I can't ask you to break the law," Ansley-Vensas said to the County Commission, referring to the ordinance that does not allow nonfarm dwellings on rangeland parcels smaller than 160 acres.
"What we can ask you to do is to help us out of the nightmare," she said.
The ordeal began in July of 2000, when they purchased the property for $75,000. Their 40 acres was originally part of a 160-acre piece that had been divided into four 40-acre parcels in 1993. Two of the adjacent property owners have already built homes on their parcels.
Ansley-Vensas said she asked Bedsaul if she could apply for the CUP, and he told her to wait, because the county was updating its zoning ordinance, and would soon have a new, less-restrictive ordinance.
Over the course of the next year, Ansley-Vensas called nearly every month to ask when she could apply, and was always told to wait for the update.
"In May (of 2001), I went out and got myself an architect," she said. "In June (of 2001), I asked him if there were any changes that might affect the placement of the house."
Bedsaul sent her the proposed changes to the ordinance, and Ansley-Vensas and her husband went on vacation.
When they came back, she called to talk to Bedsaul in July of 2001. "He was not there because he'd been fired," she recalled.
Ansley-Vensas said she called to talk to Mike Morgan, then county administrator, who said Bedsaul had lied about the possiblity of building on the property. "(Morgan) said you can't build on this property, and you could never build on this property," she said.
At that point, the couple hired Attorney Paul Sumner to help them in their contacts with new Planning Director Butch Parker, and monitor the county's process of rewriting the planning code.
In August of 2002, Ansley-Vensas and Vensas were told that a campground or hunting lodge would be permitted on the property.
When they were contacted by Sumner, he told them "that Butch Parker would not consider a hunting lodge, but would consider a campground with a manager's residence," Ansley-Vensas noted.
Over the next few months, the pair put together a soil document to prove that the soil was nonresource soil, and spent many hours creating a campground plan.
"Butch Parker agreed to the plan (as reported by Paul Sumner)," Ansley-Vensas wrote in her history of events for January of 2003. "The plan was agreed upon. Our next step was to apply. Unfortunately, David became unemployed, so we could not afford to continue."
The plans were shelved until the following January (of 2004), when they once again contacted Sumner, who contacted Parker to get the go-ahead.
From February through July, Ansley-Vensas and Vensas met with designers, toured homes, and finally, hired a designer to proceed with drawings for the campground with the manager's residence.
In August, they found out that Parker was no longer employed by the county, but they went ahead and submitted their plan anyway. The plan was rejected, and the couple and their attorney were stunned.
"There was no reason for me to assume anything was amiss," Ansley-Vensas said.
Since then, it took Senior Planner Sandy Mathewson very little time to inform them that the parcel was created too late -- after Jan. 1, 1993 -- and that the current ordinance does not allow nonfarm dwellings on such a parcel.
Speaking on behalf of Ansley-Vensas and Vensas, Brent Lake of Central Oregon Rental Use Consultants said that it all comes down to language and fairness. "You've had two planning directors clearly lie to this applicant," Lake told the County Commission.
"We ask that the current county representatives hear our plea and help us resolve this nightmare caused by their representatives," Ansley-Vensas said.
In opposition to the couple's plan, Tami MacLeod, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said that while she's sympathetic to the couple's ordeal, her primary concern is that "it's a wildlife overlay area."
Attorney Paul Dewey, who represents the Sisters Forest Planning Committee, said that both state and county law would never have allowed nonfarm dwellings on the property."
Dewey asked that the hearing's record remain open for one week.
Commissioner Bill Bellamy commented, "Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with a situation where the staff gave poor advice. These people weren't going to spend this kind of money unless they thought they were given the right kind of advice. These folks spent a lot of money and tried to be good citizens."
Bellamy moved that the county reimburse the two for all fees they paid the county. The commission unanimously supported reimbursement.
Mary Zemke, the new commission chair, agreed. "A great wrong has been done to you," she said to Ansley-Vensas and Vensas. "I'm totally with Bill about the fees. It's a pittance for all the anguish and heartburn. I do apologize for that."
The record will be held open for comments for one week, and the commission will continue to deliberate on the matter at a work session Feb. 2, at 1:30 p.m.