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City resets its course

After considering the notion of selling the Walker property, Lake Oswego is now calling for a new policy about surplus property
by: VERN UYETAKE Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman speaks with Dolores Orfanakis during a tour of the Walker property, part of the city’s Tryon Cove Park. The site, on Stampher Road, offers a public dock and access to the Willamette River.

It wasn't on the market, but that didn't matter to two Lake Oswego residents who wanted to build their house on riverfront property at 13990 Stampher Road.

Ralph and Jean Quinsey offered to buy the city-owned property, part of Tryon Cove Park. They proposed a price of $750,000, one appraiser's estimated value for the site. Known as the Walker property, the half-acre parcel sits on the western bank of the Willamette River, across Stampher Road from the rest of Tryon Cove Park.

'We have been looking to relocate from our current house but have been reluctant to leave Lake Oswego,' the Quinseys wrote in a letter to city leaders. 'We plan to use the property for our primary residence.'

Although the Lake Oswego City Council entertained the idea at first, the group reversed course at a public hearing Tuesday, rejecting the Quinseys' offer and calling for a new policy on how the city declares surplus property and disposes of it.

The city would have made some money selling the site. Lake Oswego bought it in 2004 for $650,000 - $610,000 in cash, with the balance of $40,000 considered a donation from the seller - with money from a 2002 taxpayer-backed bond measure intended to fund acquisition of open space and park land. As a result, any proceeds from the Walker property sale would have to go toward the purchase of other park property.

City council members discussed negotiations with the Quinseys behind the scenes; real property negotiations are allowed to happen in closed sessions according to Oregon's public meetings law.

The couple offered to petition to bring the property, now in unincorporated Clackamas County, into city limits. In exchange, the city would waive associated annexation fees.

It looked like the only remaining step was to hold a public hearing.

However, council members decided to send the issue to two advisory boards first.

After visiting the site on April 20, the Natural Resources and Parks and Recreation advisory boards voted unanimously to oppose selling the lot.

Board members were among a handful of citizens testified against selling the land during a public hearing Tuesday night.

Denise Dailey, vice chairwoman of the natural resources board, said the city's procedure for considering this sort of sale didn't acknowledge the parks planning process now underway. And research conducted for the 2025 Parks Master Plan shows the Walker property would help meet many of the community's future recreational needs because it has Willamette River access for rowers and kayakers. It also has an existing dock and neighbors other public park land.

'You're not going to find another property that fits all of these strategic benefits,' Dailey said. 'It is a highly desirable and unique asset of the city, and we are asking you to protect that asset for the city and for all of us.'

Debbie Craig, who helped lead a group advocating for the 2002 parks bond measure, said the Walker property may appear unused now, but that' s because it's part of a long-term plan.

'It's not a plan that's going to use that property to the fullest extent today or tomorrow, but the properties located at Tryon Cove (including) this property form the nucleus for a park complex comparable to Luscher Farm,' Craig said. 'It may connect to a trolley line, to a pathway … it will connect to a bridge over the creek to Foothills. These are all plans that are drawn.'

Doug Rich, chairman of the natural resources board, said approving the property's sale could set a worrisome standard. He urged council members to consider the 'precedent this might set for future bids on public park land considered owned by the citizens of Lake Oswego.'

Former mayor Judie Hammerstad questioned council practices: 'Is it the process - this is rhetorical - for the council to entertain any offer of purchase from a citizen who comes in and says, 'I'd like to build a house on your park land and so would you please sell it to me?''

With all members appearing to agree they wanted a new method of handling similar situations, the council voted 6-0 - councilor Jeff Gudman didn't take part because he was absent during public testimony - against selling the Walker site.

'The main reason I am against selling this property is I think it is a long-term strategic asset for the city,' councilor Sally Moncrieff said. 'It does have water access, it has the best access for kayaking and canoes, and it is part of a long-term regional connection.

'I think it serves an important recreational purpose.'

Had the proposal been approved, it could have been the first time the city sold park property to a private buyer.

Councilor Donna Jordan said of her more than four years on the council, this also appeared to be the first time anyone approached the city to bid on public property that wasn't really for sale.

'Most of the things we've been involved with have been the city trying to acquire things,' she said. 'It has become clear we definitely need a better process.'

Mayor Jack Hoffman said he had hoped to send the concept to advisory boards for review long before planning to hold a public hearing on the proposed sale.

'This hearing should never have taken place,' he said. 'I insisted we should have public process before we got to this decision point. … I am opposed to the sale of this property.'

But despite the resounding rejection of the bid, the Walker property isn't necessarily forever off the market.

Several council members said although they wanted to wait on a sale to establish a new, more public process for selling public land, they also could see reasons to dispose of the Tryon Cove site.

Councilor Mary Olson said the park's dock is in poor shape and would cost money to fix for the public's use.

'When we looked at the offer, we thought this park has very little use,' Olson said. 'Even at the NRAB and PRAB meetings where this was discussed, most of the people admitted they had never been there and never used it. Hardly anybody knows it's there.

'We have bought property for years and added to our inventory of open spaces and natural areas to the point where we can't afford to maintain them.'

Still, and even though opponents of the sale could be viewed as a 'vocal minority,' Olson said, she opted to move ahead with developing a new process for disposing of city property, including park land. Then, she said, officials can 'take another look at this property.'

Councilor Bill Tierney also backtracked on his initial plan.

'When this was brought to the council, I supported selling this piece of property,' he said. 'I was looking at it with the perspective that we have a challenge maintaining and providing services in our parks, in our natural resource areas. It's that constraint, that realism - how can we maintain that which we own - that was one of the drivers that led me to that preliminary decision.'

But he worries the city's existing process for selling the site wouldn't 'maximize the value' of the land.

Councilor Mike Kehoe said he didn't 'feel bad' about negotiating for the land's sale because he knew there would be a public hearing at some point.

'I'm not married to this park one way or another as far as keeping it or selling it,' Kehoe said. 'It comes back to how many parks are too many, and how many are enough? I'm comfortable holding onto it for the time being.'

But he wants a plan for the park's use. Without one, Kehoe said, 'it should be on the list to sell.'