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District buys first property in OC

by: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Tom Salzer tours the district's new property at 314 Pleasant Ave., Oregon City. Oregon City’s Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District now owns a chunk of property for the first time in its nearly 40-year history.

District leaders are excitedly planning a demonstration rain garden and pollinator patch on the acre-sized plot as they draw up plans for their headquarters building on Pleasant Avenue.

“We hope this land will become the footprint for a new Conservation Center,” District Manager Tom Salzer said. “We lack sufficient classroom and meeting space, and our farm customers have trouble parking at our current facility. We would also like to demonstrate our conservation ethic by incorporating green practices and building methods into the facility and related infrastructure.”

In 2006, a forward-thinking board set aside a fund to save up money to buy a possible headquarters site, Salzer said. As of February, the Building Reserve Fund was at $378,446. Earlier this year, Salzer determined that to lease the current office space at 221 Molalla Ave. over the next five years would cost $400,000 to $500,000, depending on increases and surcharges.

“Acquisition of 314 Pleasant Avenue is worth celebrating,” Salzer said. “It took a great deal of patience, persistence, vision and support from everyone involved.”

On Nov. 13, the district purchased the property in the Hilltop neighborhood for about $104,000, including closing costs — about half of its listed value.

A small sliver of the property touches on Molalla Avenue. The property fronts Caufield Street and Pleasant Avenue.

The district originally looked for land within a few miles east of Interstate 205 or McLoughlin Boulevard, from Happy Valley to Canby. Although some potentially acceptable parcels were available in the Canby area, the board decided it wanted the district offices to be near the Clackamas County offices in Oregon City.

Once Building Committee members (Salzer, Board Treasurer Don Guttridge and Associate Director Jim Toops) focused efforts on parcels around Oregon City, the parcel within two blocks of the district’s current location, which had previously been dismissed for larger properties, seemed much more feasible. Salzer said that based on his conversation with the listing agent, the Bank of America-owned property was in a “best and highest” bid situation with two bidders, but the district could enter a bid if it hurried.

“Doing things in a hurry as a government agency is challenging,” Salzer said. “We have a duty to be open in our actions, so we carefully made sure that our meetings were properly noticed.”

Bank of America accepted the bid, which, according to the agent, was not the highest amount because it was the “cleanest” offer received.

Next steps

The district will hire a surveyor to look at the possibilities of the property and possibly give a basis for an architect’s work. The district will likely hire a contractor to tear down the dilapidated structures on the site, and take away what remains of the rotted house and outbuildings.

During last week’s regular district meeting, Board Secretary Joan Zuber said she would hope that any trees that had to be removed on the site would be reused for stream restoration. An arborist has determined that a fir growing on the site is a hazard, but that tree is probably too close to the pavement. If its root ball were pulled up, it would probably damage the sidewalk substantially, Salzer said, but other trees on the site would be repurposed for stream restoration.

The district also hopes to protect a mature oak tree that graces the front of the property.

A footpath goes through the property from Myrtle Street that residents have used to get to grocery stores to the south. But Salzer said that route would have to be closed off, at least through construction. The Building Committee’s preferred option would reopen the route through a new parking lot once building construction is completed. If a headquarters weren’t constructed on the site, the district could decide to sell the property with a possible profit.

“At minimum, we anticipate this acquisition is a good investment,” Salzer said. “When the real estate market recovers, and after we take care of some issues on the parcel, it could be sold at a substantially higher price than what we paid.”

The district was scheduled to discuss the property in work session this week, and the board may take further action on Dec. 18, when it will hold its regular meeting starting at 1:15 p.m.




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