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Mill Creek camp appeal in court's hands

After more than three years of hearings, when the county court makes its decision next month, any future appeals and resolutions will have to be made at the state level
Debbie Kowalski, permit tech for the county planning department, looked over just some of the reports, maps and graphs being studied by the county court to help them make their decision on the Mill Creek youth camp appeal.
   The Crook County Court has the next phase of the Mill Creek Youth Church Camp in their ... well, in their court.
   The latest chapter of the Mill Creek church youth camp is in the hands of the Crook County Court. Over the past three years or so, after making a number of adaptations of the application to meet state and county requirements, the proposal finally ended up being turned down by the county planning commission. That denial was appealed and late last week ended up in the county court's lap.
   Before taking any testimony, County Judge Scott Cooper made it clear that none of the three members of the court had already made a decision. "There have been rumors that we have already decided," Cooper explained, but "no one on this court has made up their mind. We have struggled with it; the amount of material makes it very difficult."
   The material he was talking about, maps, charts, displays and ream after ream of papers and documents, would easily fill the bed of a large pickup. Material produced by the two factions explaining why the 152 acre site in the Mill Creek area is either a good location or a bad location for a youth church camp.
   The proponent of the camp is Outreach Northwest, a Prineville-based non-denominational Christian Youth ministry. Opposing that organization are owners of adjourning properties plus 26 residents living in that area.
   Located about 6.25 miles north of Highway 126, 17 miles east of Prineville, the proposed camp would build on the north, or uphill side of the road. That was one of the issues on which the planning commission based their decision to deny the application ... the topography, they believed, is not suitable or safe for construction of the various structures planned for the camp.
   Topography of the site was discussed to great length, one side showing how the site was "not severely sloped as the planning commission believed," and the other used models to show how landslides would be a present danger.
   "The planning commission made a key factual error by mis-stating the topographic features of the parcel, stating that many of the buildings would be constructed on very steep slopes," Outreach Northwest's representative Richard Stein said. "The buildings will be constructed on relatively level areas ... that are sufficiently large to handle all buildings planned and allow for a 250-foot buffer."
   The buffer is another issue the planners are said to have misinterpreted. The planning commision did not follow the approved OAR (Oregon Administrative Rules), according to Stein, to the necessary setbacks from neighboring properties.
   The planners, Stein said, decided the parcel "must be suitable to minimize impacts on nearby properties. They said all visual/audio aspects have to end at the edge of the property. Under Crook County ordinance, we could legally have a large rock quarry within 100-feet of the property."
   In their turns, both attorneys testified with one side claiming the 250-foot setbacks would be more than adequate and the other denying that, claiming noise pollution would reduce the value of the neighboring property.
   "The kids will be doing what kids do at a church camp," Stein told he court, "not holding rock concerts with electric guitars."
   Other points the planning commissioners erred in making their decision included the number of young people the camp could serve, whether an internal camp road was adequate for fire protection and evacuation, and increased traffic on Mill Creek Road.
   Completing their presentations, both attorneys thanked the court.
   "We are confident," Dan Van Vactor, the attorney hired by the opposing land owners, said, "that you can look at the laws in this case and follow that law in making your decision."
   There are three options open for the court; to over turn the planning commission decision, uphold that decision or throw out one or more of the alleged errors and refer it back to the commissioners with orders to take another look at it.
   Transferring all the charts, models and binders filled with testimony to the court, Cooper explained that no decision would be made for a while. "It will take time to go through the records," Cooper said. "Assuming there is some commonality in our decision, we'll attempt to draft a decision by our (the court's) first meeting in December."
   If the three-member body can reach a decision, that draft would be presented during their Dec. 5 meeting and a final decision adopted on Dec. 19. Although neither side has officially announced their intention, it is believed that no matter what the court decides, the losing side will appeal that decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.