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City, county make deal on fairgrounds land

Plan for RV parking, sports fields has some detractors


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Once the land transaction is finalized, the city of Hillsboro will relocate, improve and expand the tennis courts at the southwestern edge of the fairgrounds property, while the county will site a five-acre RV campground with modern amenities in a neighboring parcel.The city of Hillsboro and Washington County have pulled off a land deal geared to improve recreational opportunities and enhance tourism opportunities in the area. But some observers believe the deal could undermine the fairground’s primary operations.

A tentative agreement calls for the city of Hillsboro to invest as much as $2 million to create an “urban recreational vehicle campground” on five acres of land within the Washington County Fair Complex. In exchange, Hillsboro will take over ownership of 15 acres of county land at the fairgrounds that is used for soccer, softball and tennis. The city has managed and maintained the athletic fields for about 40 years.

Meanwhile, Washington County will be able to build a public RV park, which tourism proponents have identified as a growing need in the Hillsboro community.

The two parcels sit side by side at the southwestern edge of the fairgrounds property. The land on which the five-acre RV campground would be built is located directly east of the athletic fields.

“The concept of a high quality urban campground has been considered for several years,” said Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck. “Recent discussions with the city of Hillsboro have yielded an opportunity to create that space, while at the same time creating certainty for Hillsboro to re-invest in the ball fields on the fairgrounds.”

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey was enthusiastic about the move.

“The city can invest in the ball fields to improve the user experience for local families and create new opportunities for hosting a variety of youth and adult sports,” said Willey. “Meanwhile, Washington County secures the city’s help in building the urban RV park, creating a regional destination for RV owners — boosting businesses that benefit from tourism and giving visitors another great option while enjoying the fair.”

According to Deborah Raber, senior project manager with the Hillsboro Planning Department, the idea of transferring the land took shape after Washington County requested that the city allow increased flexibility regarding RV parking. County officials asked for “the opportunity to consider a more permanent facility to accommodate community visitors year-round rather than in connection with a specific event at the fairgrounds.”

Benefits to visitors

In a Feb. 25 staff report to the city council, Raber noted that reducing location and time restrictions on RV parking would benefit visitors to the Hillsboro area as well as bring increased revenue to the fair complex.

The new RV park is expected to offer a variety of modern amenities, such as cable television access, Wi-Fi and utilities.

“A new top-of-the-line RV park is what Washington County needs to elevate our ability to draw visitors traveling in recreational vehicles,” said Carolyn McCormick, president of the Washington County Visitors Association. “This partnership enables us to introduce our destination to visitors looking to enjoy the urban and rural travel experience.”

Duyck said improved camping facilities would benefit fairground operations as well.

“There has been camping on the Washington County fairgrounds for as long as we have had a county fair,” Duyck said. “This zoning amendment will codify the use on a portion of the fairgrounds and allow for improved campsites. It may be a revenue generator, but the prime purpose is to enhance the existing uses and experience of those using the fairgrounds for events throughout the year.”

Not everyone was convinced, however. Lyle Spiesschaert, a Forest Grove resident and treasurer of the Washington County Fair Boosters, a nonprofit volunteer organization formed to promote and support the annual county fair, said he has serious concerns about the proposal.

“The math doesn’t add up, to transfer 15 acres to the city to get back $2 million,” Spiesschaert said. “This is a transfer of county property to another municipality. Why doesn’t Forest Grove get an opportunity like this?”

Philip Bransford, the county’s communications officer, pointed out that the transaction is being made to benefit the public.

“It is important to remember there is no aspect of this proposal that would result in commercial ownership or development,” Bransford explained. “The concept would be to transfer ownership of these 15 acres from one public entity to another with a goal of significantly improving the current park amenities available to the public.”

Spiesschaert said making more room for an RV campground could impede other activities at the fairgrounds.

Erosion of property

“There is an erosion of property,” he said. “They are hacking up the fairgrounds unbelievably.”

Bransford said enhancements at the RV park and athletic fields would not get in the way of other activities.

“The proposal for the RV park and improvements to the sports fields would not impact access to the other parts of the fairgrounds by vendors or event organizers,” he said.

Once city ownership is assured for the athletic fields, Hillsboro officials intend to begin work on numerous upgrades at the site, including installation of artificial turf on the playing fields.

“It’s dirt and grass right now, and we can only use the fields six months out of the year,” said Mary Loftin, community resources manager for the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department. “The artificial turf is a real boon to us. We will gain year-round play, and it will upgrade the quality and level of the sports complex.”

Also planned are new lighting, backstops, bases, players’ benches and bleachers. In addition, the four tennis courts at the fairgrounds will be relocated and expanded to six courts. The tennis courts will be resurfaced, with new lighting, fencing and benches installed.

A new concessions area and restroom building that meets ADA accessibility requirements will be built, and the parking lot at the site will be upgraded with asphalt surfacing, concrete curbs, signage, striping and lighting.

Unanswered questions

Spiesschaert said the deal leaves too many questions unanswered.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong; it’s what we don’t know, that’s what is troubling,” he explained. “The process hasn’t been real transparent. A high-end RV park really won’t be used by local citizens. It sounds like more of a business venture.”

According to Bransford, the plan has not yet been formally adopted. The Washington County Board of Commissioners and the Hillsboro City Council will need to pass an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to implement the final proposal.

“I’m not aware of dates yet as to when each body would consider adopting an IGA,” he said.

However, Bransford pointed out that the plan has received support every step of the way so far.

“The process heretofore has involved input and review by the county’s Fairgrounds Advisory Committee, Fair Board, County Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee and, with their vote to change the land use zoning at the site, the Hillsboro City Planning Commission and the Hillsboro City Council,” Bransford said.

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