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Rock Creek Golf Course owners push for land-use change

Nearby homeowners fear property values will plummet if homes are built on the green

When Ryan Hurlbert bought a home in the Rock Creek neighborhood a decade ago, it was because he liked the area, including its reputation for having good schools and a mix of original homeowners.

'It was a really nice, established neighborhood,' said Hurlbert.

Now he and others are worried about the possible development of the Rock Creek Golf Course by owners hoping to stave off shrinking revenues from declining course membership.

Armed with those fears, an estimated 100 residents packed last week's Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting to express concerns over what many believe could affect the livability of their neighborhood.

They were told the process is just beginning and has a ways to go.

The issue began earlier this year when Michael C. Robinson, an attorney for the owners of the 149-acre private course, asked for an amendment to the Washington County Comprehensive Plan to provide flexibility to change the open space designation, 'to allow compatible private development in return for new access by the public to some or all of the remaining open space.'

The course is designated open space on the Washington County Comprehensive Plan. It's zoned for institutional use, meaning it's limited to, among other uses, a school, hospital, cemetery or group care facility.

'This is the kind of thing that really worries people,' Anne Madden, a spokeswoman for the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation said about residents' concerns for the course. 'What this all amounts to is something the board has agreed to look at but not for awhile.'

The golf course owners' request would adjust the plan amendment criteria to make it possible to change the use of the space, though Madden noted the issue is not a pressing priority as the county looks at planning issues in such areas as North Bethany and West Bull Mountain.

'Basically, the board has agreed this is worth analyzing,' said Madden. 'It obviously wouldn't go to any hearing this year.'

While Dave Zimel, who runs Portland Fixture Limited Partnership, a real estate and investment company that owns the golf course, is aware of people's concerns, he insists there is a lot of misinformation going around.

'We have not come to (the county) to change the zoning,' said Zimel. 'A lot of people think it's an application to develop the golf course.'

The golf club currently has 500 members, a number that has fluctuated over the years.

'The golf course business is not doing well,' Zimel admitted. 'We've been very candid about that.'

As investors, he said his company wants more options for the future.

One idea that has been mentioned in documents sent to the county is the possibility of working with Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District to grant some public access to private land, including possibly widening the existing Rock Creek Regional Trail and adding new athletic fields.

Still, Zimel insists there are no specific plans about how the property would be developed if a change in the property's status is eventually approved.

However, many residents are skeptical.

Mary Manseau, co-chairwoman of Citizen Participation Organization 7, which represents Rock Creek and northern Washington County communities, said the group will continue discussing the issue at its regular meeting set for Monday night at 7 p.m. at the OSU extension office at the Capitol Center, 18640 N.W. Walker Road.

Last month's meeting attracted 180 residents in a gathering that normally sees no more than 15.

'We essentially had a 'turn away' crowd,' said Manseau.

That meeting included Zimel and Delna Jones, a former Washington County commissioner who is working as a consultant with the golf course owners.

Also on hand was a representative from OTAK Inc., an architectural engineering and planning firm.

'I think the biggest concern is change and the final step is to remove the open space overlay,' said Manseau.

In response to golf course owners saying they don't have a plan, Manseau said she thinks something is in the works based on the caliber of those consultants and planners hired.

She said her concern is for those residents who purchased property in Rock Creek specifically because of the golf course.

'The biggest fear is you have institutional zoning with the open space overlay,' she said, something that limits the use of what can be built there.

Recently, a new group - Friends of Rock Creek - has been formed to help save the course from any type of future development.

Golf course adjacent

In an earlier 3-1 vote about referring the issue of the fate of the course to county planners, Commissioner Desari Strader was the sole vote opposing such a move.

She said she has been told several times by head planning staffers that they don't have the resources to look at the issue at the moment, something she respects.

'Staff tends to be brighter than most elected officials,' said Strader.

She said she worries about recent comments made by Portland and Metro officials about whether an expansion of the urban growth boundary will occur anytime soon.

That would mean having to solve future demand for housing with infilling homes with existing land, said Strader.

Jim Van Dyke, who purchased a home on the Rock Creek Golf Course 19 years ago, said he worries about any plans that would change the nature of the course, saying that those who purchased property on the links assumed the course would always be there.

'Everyone felt this was going to stay here,' Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke was one of those who attended last week's commission meeting, urging the county to approach the issue carefully.

'The Friends of Rock Creek urge you to remove from your work plan the study of the Rock Creek open space overlay,' Van Dyke told the commissioners. 'Furthermore, we want you to ultimately deny the request to remove the open space designation.'

Van Dyke said he was shocked to hear about possible changes, noting that if the golf course no longer exists it will be devastating to those who purchased their homes because of it.

'Most Realtors say it will (be) a $100,000 or more loss to your property,' said Van Dyke, who estimates there are more than 200 homes that line the course alone.

Meanwhile, Manseau's concern is that the plan will simply move through the process without much notice because hearings on the issue won't occur until next year.

'I think at this point there is a lot of concern people will downplay (the fact) it's not going to happen right away,' she said.