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St. Helens vote retraction angers Portland nonprofit

Victory Outreach, a Portland church group, calls foul over city handling of business venture

St. Helens city councilors are being cautious - some are saying malicious - in their handling of an application that would allow Portland nonprofit Victory Outreach to lease its ownership of a church on Columbia Boulevard to a furniture store owner.

Victory Outreach is the same ministerial organization that in 2006 proposed opening a drug and alcohol live-in treatment center at the church.

That proposal raised community ire for its close proximity to Lewis and Clark Intermediate School, and ultimately fell through due to community pressure and unmet approval conditions.

Some neighbors are alleging that the furniture business uses recovering drug and alcohol addicts from Victory Outreach to deliver the furniture and work at the store, something the store owners deny.

On Wednesday, councilors in attendance at the regular meeting voted 3-0 to revisit an earlier decision that would have paved a path forward for Victory Outreach to lease its space to Rick McDonald, a Portland man seeking to open a furniture store in St. Helens, across from the school.

The earlier decision was a vote of 3-2, with councilors Doug Morten and Phillip Barlow casting the dissenting votes. That council vote approved an encroachment license for the proposed store. A corner of the church building protrudes roughly 6 feet into the city's right of way, and while it does not obstruct motor or vehicle traffic, the company's owners would either need the special license, a street vacation, or they would have to tear down that portion of its building for city approval.

Revisiting prior vote approvals is a legal option for the council, said City Administrator Chad Olsen. The next council discussion on the store is planned for April 2.

While the city has not given its approval yet to run the business, the company is being allowed to move furniture into the building.

McDonald is proposing to name the store the 'St. Helens Furniture Company,' according to the business license. He is the owner of other furniture stores in the Portland area, including the Oregon City Furniture Company.

Though McDonald's name is listed on the business application permit, when contacted he deferred the discussion to a man named 'Tomas,' who said he did not want to give his last name until discussing the matter with his attorney.

'Victory Outreach has nothing to do with me,' Tomas said. 'If you don't like Victory Outreach, take it up with them.'

Tomas did say during the interview, however, that his quotes can be attributed to him as a spokesperson for 'Hotel Furniture Liquidators.'

A search of Hotel Furniture Liquidators on the Oregon Secretary of State's Corporations Division Web site shows that operation as having the same ownership as Victory Outreach, a man named Maximo Garza.

Garza was unavailable for comment when the Spotlight contacted the Victory Outreach center in northwest Portland.

Robin Mayfield, a minister with Victory Outreach, said there is a link between his organization and the McDonald's business, but said that connection is really none of the city's business.

'I would tell them to their face that it's none of their business who this man we're going to be leasing to is going to employ there,' Mayfield said, arguing that other motives are driving the reconsideration. 'All I know is that there are some racist moves being pulled and prejudice type things, and I'm not just throwing those words around.'

He added that he believes the city council is locking onto the encroachment piece as a tactic to deny Victory Outreach entrance into the city, and said his research into records on the building shows that it received city approval when the addition was built in the 1970s. For them to bring it up now, he said, is poor sport.

'What they're trying to do is keep our hands handcuffed financially, and I don't like it,' Mayfield said, pointing out that the agency pays taxes on the former church. Tomas said around $20,000 to date has been invested in its quest to lease to McDonald.

When Victory Outreach opted not to pursue the treatment center, the city afterward changed its development code for group homes, now requiring a license from the state.

Even so, whether the city could outright deny Victory Outreach's opening of such a center is legally questionable, said City Planner Skip Baker.

'It's very difficult to stop that action legally,' Baker said.

Tomas, who said he runs four furniture stores of the same make-up as the one proposed for St. Helens, said he intends to involve his attorney in the process to secure the encroachment license.

'I've never had this much problem in all my years of doing business,' Tomas said. 'I'm going to let my attorneys take care of it now.'