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Phoenix Urban Renewal land sale draws concerns

file photoA couple{ } rides their bikes through Blue Heron Park in Phoenix Sunday morning.

Pending sale of a 1.36-acre parcel of land next to Blue Heron Park for an upscale RV park has some residents unhappy with the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency. They are concerned that the sale will result in the loss of wetlands on the site.

BBMFR LLC, headed by James Beard, has signed a sale agreement with the agency to buy the parcel for $375,000. The sale is expected to close no later than Oct. 29.

Douglas Day, operations manager for the project, said it was premature to discuss details such as number of sites and the type of clients the park hopes to attract. As part of the sales agreement, the purchaser must submit a land-use application to the city prior to closing. An architect is involved in preparing that plan, Day said.

“The buyers and PHURA are still in negotiation. The entire project is still being determined,” said Al Muelhoefer, PHURA board chairman. The business would be called Blue Heron RV Park, he said.

The company plans to construct the RV park on the land and two adjacent parcels they have purchased that housed the Dun Rov-N RV Park and the Frontier Lodge apartments, both of which were destroyed by the Almeda fire.

A vacant, old house on the urban renewal site also burned. In all, 4.02 acres would be developed. All of the land borders Highway 99 in the South 4300 block. The PHURA parcel is adjacent to the park’s northern entrance.

PHURA held a special online meeting Sept. 13 to allow residents to comment on the sale, although the agency had already signed the sales document Sept. 1. Three people voiced concerns about the project, and written testimony was also submitted. Concerns centered on the future of a wetlands on the site which contains a spring.

“When it came to our attention, many of us were alarmed. No one sees the wetland as an asset. They are seen as more of an obstacle,” said Annie Drager. She also wondered why there was no public hearing prior to the sale, and what would be the impact on the road into Blue Heron Park.

“It’s an irreplaceable asset,” said Kristina Lefever, who is with the Pollinator Project Rogue Valley headquartered in Phoenix. She regretted that the spring and riparian area would not remain public property.

LeFever, at a July 7 PHURA session, had presented a proposal for a nature learning center on the site. Other organizations would have been involved with the center, and she stated the location at a wetland site would aid education efforts.

“We need a learning center to learn the value of the wetlands and create a positive relationship to nature,” said Drager.

PHURA had proposed that the riparian area of the land, about .63 of an acre, remain in public ownership. But the board later withdrew that idea after the developers indicated they wanted the entire parcel, Muelhoefer said.

As envisioned, the wetlands would be covered over and land in a wetlands mitigation bank elsewhere would be purchased to replace the lost riparian area, Day said at the meeting.

“We definitely plan to go by all the rules and regulations that are required to develop this park,” said Day. He reported that the LLC has hired Portland wetland engineer Phil Scoles to head up that portion of the project. He said it could take up to a year to go through the wetlands permitting process.

In response to questions, Phoenix Community Development Director Joe Slaughter said that all wetland considerations are handled by the Oregon’s Division of State Lands.

“The city is not involved (with wetlands), it’s the Division of State Lands. It’s not unusual to have wetland mitigation banks for this purpose,” said Slaughter. Requirements for wetland mitigation by the state agency would be incorporated into approvals the city would give for the RV park.

Board member Terry Baker, who is also mayor of Phoenix, called for more sessions so the public can be informed as the project progresses. The Phoenix City Council serves as the agency’s board of directors. Day indicated the corporation is willing to participate in additional sessions to provide information.

The agency’s board of directors held executive sessions during July and August in which sale of property was listed as a reason for the meetings. An initial offer to purchase was received June 30. The agency made a counter offer Aug. 31.

Appearance and operations standards for the park are required to be submitted as part of the land-use application to the city. Age and condition of RVs and pet occupancy are among the items covered in the standards listed in the sales agreement.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.