By BRIAN BULLOCK
By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Brookings Planning Commission decided to recommend to the City Council that it annex 553 acres owned by U.S. Borax near Lone Ranch.
The move signaled that the road U.S. Borax has traveled over the past 14 years in quest of developing its property near Lone Ranch appears much shorter.
After a lengthy and thorough presentation by a development team, including former Brookings resident and president of Western Advocates Burton Weast, followed by testimony from a number of proponents and opponents, the Planning Commission decided that all of the questions posed by citizens and the annexation application had been sufficiently answered.
The issue will move on to the City Council for action either later this month or early next month.
The move does not signal imminent development on the forested acreage east of Highway 101. If approved by the City Council, it merely moves the land to be zoned as public open space into the city. U.S. Borax must submit a detailed master plan, which would have to be approved by the commission and the council before development could begin.
"This is an entirely different situation than I've ever been involved with," Weast said in his opening remarks.
Weast explained the history of the property, from its boron mining roots in the 1870s, to its logging history of the 1920s, to its inclusion in the Oregon State Parks system in the 1950s, to the long, drawn out march toward potential development.
He also explained that Brookings' adoption of its Urban Growth Boundary has also set some historical precedents. It is the largest UGB ever approved by the state, Weast said. And it has taken an interminably long time to finalize. Weast also said because it is so large, it gives area planners and residents a chance to shape their community.
"One reason it was allowed is that Brookings had three large property owners around the city," he explained. "In Brookings, you have a unique opportunity. You have a blank slate. You really have the opportunity to do some planning."
Even though it was not required by the annexation application, the Borax team laid out a conceptual plan that, with City Council approval, will soon become part of Brookings.
It will include 149 acres of single family homes, 13 acres of multi-family dwellings, and eight acres of assisted living units. Although not finalized, plans are for 444 homes, 166 townhomes, condominiums or apartments, and 80 senior living units.
Also on the proposed land use chart is six acres of commercial, six acres for a hotel and supporting commercial uses, 35 acres of recreational area, 41 acres of right-of-way access, 280 acres of open space, and 15 acres for a community college campus. It was the donation of land for a Southwestern Oregon Community College facility that drew added support for the development plan.
"We have not been able to locate land," explained SWOCC president Steve Kridelbaugh. "This company has approached us with an offer of land that will allow us to have 10 acres for a campus and possibly another five acres later on if we need it."
For SWOCC administrators, the possibility was almost too good to be true.
"We've long dreamed of having a site on the north end of town to have it accessible to people coming from Gold Beach," said Peggy Goergen, dean of the Brookings campus.
Also part of the development plans are sewer and water facilities that seemed to answer many questions put forth by concerned citizens. The development will have its own sewer treatment facility and water source.
Marty Striven, of Western Advocates, one of three companies represented on the development team, said public facilities were thoroughly addressed in the conceptual planning stage. She said two wells on the property and the treatment system would make the development nearly self-contained. She also said it would eventually benefit the city.
"Tests have shown there is adequate water to serve this site. Our sanitation system has no impact on the city system. Hook up to the city system will not occur until the city system can handle it," Striven explained. "The well and reservoir system will provide a secondary water supply for the city."
Striven also said build out of the development has been included in the master plans for the city's transportation and public facilities.
Water issues were on the minds of a couple of area residents. Mike Smith, who lives at Rainbow Rock, Yvonne Maitland, of Harbor, and Steve Witter, also of Rainbow Rock, all worried about the development's impact on water supplies.
Smith said the 60 condominium units on the 14 acres at Rainbow Rock get water from a creek that flows across the property that has been designated for the SWOCC campus. He worried about the flow of that creek once the property is developed.
Witter, a resident of Rainbow Rock Mobile Home Park, wondered if that area would be forced to join the city with residents paying for hooking up to city services. He asked if it would be similar to the situation several years ago in Dawson Tract.
City planner John Bischoff said residents of Dawson Tract voted to join city services and Rainbow Rock would most likely not face that scenario.
"There is a potential for these wells to provide water for the entire north end of town," Weast added. "We are anticipating the city will eventually demand our water system."
Catherine Wiley, who lives east of the proposed development expressed concerns about wildlife in the area. She said there are currently bears, deer and cougars on the property. Development would push them away, she said.
Wiley also thought the city should require a master plan before annexation.
"It seems to me you're putting the cart before the horse. You should be considering a plan before annexation," she said.
Susan Wimberly added her voice to the concern for planned and controlled growth.
Weast said the company would not go to the expense of creating a master plan without being annexed first.
Both Weast and Striven said the development's impact on surrounding areas would be minimal because of the natural buffers of Highway 101, the ravines that dissect the property and the hilly nature of the area.
Weast said the adoption of the Urban Growth Boundary and the large parcels included in it gives Brookings the opportunity to plan its growth better than most cities. He said since the passage of Measure 50, which limits the incremental increases in property tax, many cities have put a concerted effort into expanding their boundaries.
"In most of Oregon, we have an annexation derby going on. That's because, with Measure 50, the money goes directly into the city coffers," he explained.
Weast said last year U.S. Borax paid $10,330 in property taxes on the Lone Ranch parcel. He then pointed out a chart in the annexation request showing that once the property is developed, it will generate $448,545 in property tax from the single- and multi-family residences alone.
He said that figure didn't include taxes generated by the proposed hotel development, commercial businesses or the assisted living facility.
Pete Chasar, of Brookings, warned similar developments in Colorado promised huge tax benefits to surrounding cities but penciled out as liabilities to their communities. He proposed the city buy the property from Borax and turn it into park land.
Bischoff said that because the property is in the Urban Growth Boundary, it is buildable, and the city lacks property that can be developed, and it should be developed. If it's not developed, Bischoff said the city would need to find a similar sized property to include in the UGB.
Ginc Emery, of Otak Inc., a Lake Oswego civil engineering firm working on the project, explained the process Borax has completed to reach the annexation request. He said the site was extensively studied and information on it was gathered locally.
Then similar developments were studied. They included Sunriver, in Bend, The Capes, and Forest Heights.
Emery said the physical aspects of property was assessed. Ravines, rock outcroppings and environmentally sensitive areas were mapped. The water, sewer and private utilities were examined.
Then concept alternatives were developed, he explained. The concept determined to best fit the property will be developed in phases, he said.
"We anticipate we'll take five or more phases to complete the project," Emery said.
Weast and the development team stressed that annexation approval doesn't mean bulldozers will be on the property any time soon. He said it would probably be nine months before a master plan for the property would be ready to be presented.
He also said he didn't forsee the project being sold or unfinished.
"I think a more realistic time line (for built out) is in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 years," Weast explained. "We don't believe there is a market in Brookings to buy out this project. We believe there is a market for each phase."
The commission was impressed both in the presentation and the team's ability to answer any questions.
"I'm anxious to see it happen. I think it's going to be a big benefit to the city," said Commissioner Ted Freeman. "It was very well done and leaves very few questions."