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Part of large land reserve could be sold

GRANTS PASS — An advisory board has suggested that the Grants Pass City Council inventory "surplus" city-owned land and possibly sell it, including at least part of the 248-acre River Road Reserve.

Proceeds might be used to improve existing parks or buy land for soccer fields.

"We need money," said Gary Still, a member of the eight-member Grants Pass Parks Advisory Board.

On Thursday, the board voted unanimously to include the suggestion in its goals for 2017. The recommendation now goes to the Grants Pass City Council for consideration on Jan. 20, as part of the council's own wide-ranging goals discussion.

The board's vote followed more than an hour of lively discussion in a city conference room, with comments coming from several audience members, one of whom said he'd like to buy part of the reserve, located about two miles west of the city.

The reserve is between Upper River Road and Lower River Road, just east of Dutcher Creek Golf Course and north of Lathrop Boat Landing on the Rogue River. At its widest, it extends more than a mile east to west and about a half-mile north to south.

A small part of the property north of Upper River Road is home to the Josephine County Food Bank and its associated Raptor Creek Farm, which has a community garden. Crops from the garden help to stock the shelves at the Food Bank.

The property, once a dairy and hops farm, was purchased 10 years ago for $2.75 million.

"Obtaining that large of a tract of land is a once-in-a-century opportunity," Board Chairman Dick Matti warned his fellow board members. "Before we take the step of disposing of it, we want to be very careful."

Board Vice Chairman Cliff Kuhlman wondered if the parcel was even marketable.

Complicating the future of the reserve is its zoning — farm use, which means the state might not allow soccer fields, which could be considered an urban use.

That restriction lessens the attractiveness of the land in the eyes of some board members.

Board member Rick Chapman said he was led to believe years ago that soccer fields could be built at the reserve, but he now thinks otherwise, and says development potential at the reserve is limited. He also believes the Grants Pass area already has plenty of parks within a 10-minute drive.

But ballfields aren't the only thing parks are good for. The city's parks master plan calls for the reserve to possibly include natural areas, open play fields, a nature center, trails, picnic shelters and a pond, in addition to a farm and gardens. Other suggestions include a dog park, disc golf course, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and possibly even a foot and bicycle bridge over the river, linking the reserve to the city's Redwood area.

Sale of the reserve previously had been the board's first priority, in a draft document, but Thursday's vote moved it to No. 4 on its list of goals for all city parks. Its top goals now are more parks maintenance, a new soccer complex and improvements at Riverside Park, including a shelter, community center and water spray recreational area.

City Councilor Valerie Lovelace, who sat in on the board meeting, said the council values suggestions from its advisory committees.

"We really do listen to what the committees say," she said.

Matti said he expects to address the council on behalf of the parks board when the Council meets Jan. 20.

Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or shall@thedailycourier.com