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City buys last piece to Hogan Butte park puzzle

Property partnership gives city cut rate on 11 lower acres of land

To call Gresham's purchase of 11 acres on Hogan Butte a sweet deal is putting it mildly.

Thanks to the generosity of the sellers, a seven-person partnership, Gresham city councilors on Tuesday, June 20, approved purchasing the land - worth about $1.3 million counting timber - for just $550,000. The difference, about $750,000, is considered a tax-deductible gift to Gresham.

The 11 acres of forested land on the western slope of Hogan Butte is right next to 28 scenic acres Gresham purchased from Ron and Cheryl Haggerty in 2004.

With an estimated elevation of 950 feet, the Haggerty property is considered the crown jewel of Hogan Butte with breathtaking views of Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Jefferson and the Columbia River Gorge.

'This piece is critical to providing access to Hogan Butte, to those views,' said Robb Courtney, Gresham Parks and Recreation Manager, referring to the 11 acres.

Those acres also will include the first trailhead in a network of trails that some say will become an eastside Forest Park.

Buying the property has been a long-term goal of city officials, who've been trying to preserve the buttes since voters approved a 1990 park bond. It also marks a happy ending to a development saga that's plagued the partners who originally bought the land.

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Known to city officials as the 'Freeman Property,' the 11 acres are actually owned by a partnership consisting of Brian and Annette Freeman of Gresham, Lola Bessey of Portland, Patrick E. and Martha O'Grady of Seattle and Vince and Kathy Cooney of Portland.

It all started in the late 1960s, when five Oregon Air National Guard pilots bought a total of 82 acres on the western flank of Hogan Butte. Back then the partners joked about selling the property to fund their small children's college educations.

In 1989, the partnership sold 35 acres that became part of Persimmon, a high-end development nestled along a country club and golf course.

With the remaining 46 acres, the partnership had grand plans for quality homes built on large wooded lots. Meanwhile, the Trust for Public Lands tried to buy 28.5 acres on top of Hogan Butte. But the trust's two-year option to buy the land from Ron Haggerty expired, causing the trust to cast their eyes west to the partnership's 46 acres.

The partnership gave the trust two years to come up with funding and as those two years came to an end, a local developer, Mike Agee, approached the partnership with an offer to develop the property.

The partnership gave the trust extra time to raise the money. Gresham Mayor Charles Becker wrote a letter on behalf of the trust, stating that the city and Metro were trying to find federal funding to buy the land, with hopes of setting aside 13 of the 46 acres as forested open space.

But the federal funding fell through. The trust's extension expired. And Agee ended up buying 28 of the 46 acres.

Then things got ugly.

Instead of honoring their agreement with Agee, two members of the partnership wanted to sell the land to a couple that sits on the Butte Conservancy board.

In the end, the partnership kept its deal with the developer, but had to sue two of its original partners to make it happen. The Butte Conservancy then challenged Gresham's approval of the development before Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals and lost. The 48 homes of Country Club Estates are now under construction.

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Throughout years of legal battles between the partners, the developer and the Butte Conservancy, the remaining partners paid attention when Gresham managed to buy the 28-acre crown jewel from the Haggertys. Agee, who also is a real estate agent, represented the Haggertys in their 2004 deal with the city.

The partnership had talked for years about preserving Hogan Butte's top. And it still owned 18 acres - including an 11-acre piece of land the partnership felt was perfect for a park. Covered with old second-growth fir, the land includes the best trees of the 86 original acres.

And when coupled with a conservation easement that's part of Country Club Estates, 'the park environment is larger than the 11 acres,' said partner Vince Cooney. '… I've always enjoyed walking through there because it's so close to the city, and it's so wild.'

After Gresham bought the Haggerty property, Brian Freeman, one of the partners, acted as a liaison between the partnership and the city. He approached City Councilor Dave Shields and other city representatives to see if the city was interested in buying 11 acres to the west.

Now that the deal is nearly final, the partners are basking in visions of what's to come - a network of trails all residents can enjoy, a butte that's been preserved for generations to come.

'It'll be like the Council Crest of the Eastside,' said partner Lola Bessey.

The deal becomes final on June 30. When that date rolls around, partner Vince Cooney said he'll sleep well knowing he and the partnership 'did something really nice.'

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The 11 acres perfectly complement Gresham's plans for Hogan Butte, said Dave Rouse, Gresham Department of Environmental Services Directors.

'We're beginning to get the trail links and Hogan Butte will be the first developed trailhead in the city's 1,000 acres of open space,' echoed Robb Courtney, parks and recreation manager.

Combined, the two parcels will create a 40-acre park on top of Hogan Butte called The Hogan Butte Nature Park and Scenic Overlook.

The area will include a loop trail encircling the top of Hogan Butte, allowing visitors to meander amongst a mix of conifer and deciduous forests with picnic sites and interpretive displays. A trailhead on the 11-acre site will include a small parking lot, restrooms, tables and maps, Courtney said.

Trails on Hogan Butte will become part of an interconnected system linking the butte to open space in nearby subdivisions, west of Regner Road and into the Gresham Butte Trail System.

Master planning for the Hogan Butte Nature Park starts this summer.

Money for the 11-acre purchase came from a $250,000 grant from the Oregon State Parks Local Government Grant Program and $300,000 in developer-paid system development charges.

Gresham has applied for more state and federal grants to fund construction of trails and the trailhead. Also the project is included in Metro's November bond measure. If all funding sources come through, construction could begin as soon as next year. Otherwise, construction could be pushed back to 2008.