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Mill Creek youth camp decision appeal to be heard

Proponents of the church youth camp will attempt to convince the county court Wednesday morning that the county planning commission erred in denying the application for the camp
In October, the Crook County Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the application for a permit to build a youth camp in the Mill Creek area.
   Having spent a lot of time reviewing the more than two years of testimony, reports, maps and expert statements, the panel orally voted at that time to turn down the permit application. Even as they cast their vote, the commissioners knew their decision would be appealed. Next Wednesday that will happen; at 9 a.m., as the first order of their agenda, the court will take up that appeal. And no matter what decision the court makes, it is quite probable that it will also be appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
   After hearing hours and hours of testimony over the long months since the issue first came up, and reaching their conclusion, the members of the planning commission made sure their decision was fully explained.
   For more than two years, public hearings had been held on the application. Time and again, the project developer, Larry Syme and his attorneys and experts presented their plans. And time and again, opponents' experts offered testimony on why the Mill Creek area is the wrong place for a youth church camp.
   The youth camp proposal has a history in Crook County that goes back a number of years. The application for a permit was made by a Baptist church program called Outreach Northwest. The plan was to build on part of the 193-acre Steins Ranch about 17 miles northeast of Prineville.
   From the beginning, it was clear that the applicants had not convinced the planners that the 43-acre site was where a youth camp should be located. Even after having successfully lobbying the state legislature into changing the law concerning youth camps in forest zoned land, the question of the Mill Creek site being appropriate still had to be answered. It apparently wasn't, at least to the commissioners' satisfaction.
   In making their decision to deny the permit, each of the commissioners commented on their individual concerns. The combined list of issues totaled more that 14 points. When the appeal is before the county court, only eight issues will be under discussion.
   When the appeal reached the court, that body decided to accept only limited material from the appellant. Before it was the applicant, Outreach Northwest, was doing battle with attorneys from a group of residents and nearby property owners. Now going before the court, it will be the appellant, trying to convince the court that the planning commission based their decision on faulty thinking. Bend attorney, Dan Van Vactor, representing the neighboring property owners, has provided support for the denial.
   So the issue can be dealt with in a reasonable period, the court set a limit on the briefs that would be accepted from Outreach Northwest and Van Vactor. Briefs were limited to 20 pages, but the court decided to allow attachments. At the last count, the attachments to the brief presented by Van Vactor totaled more than 300 pages.
   In filing the appeal for Outreach Northwest, Larry Syme claimed the planners had "misconstrued applicable portions of the the law and misconstrued or ignored factual evidence in the record. The appeal listed eight instances of this.
   Along with the 20 pages of legal briefs, plus the attachments, the court expects to accept only limited testimony from the appellant. When the court makes its decision on the appeal, they can make any one of a number of findings; they could uphold the planning commission's decision, they could overturn that decision or they could throw out one or more of the alleged errors and develop their own grounds for that decision.
   The burden of proof is on Outreach Northwest. They have to show the decisions the planning commission made were legally or factually improper or incorrect.
   Whatever final decision the court makes, it is sure to be appealed to the state.