The Oregonian – December 24, 2013
Two Clackamas County commissioners committed to working with Jennings Lodge residents to find funding for a park in hopes of winning the rest of the board’s support.
Commissioners Paul Savas and Martha Schrader asked the board in October to consider turning part of the property that houses an evangelical center at 18121 SE River Road into an open space park. Since then, the other three commissioners rejected the idea, saying they are worried about burying the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District — already cash-strapped — in more debt.
About a dozen Jennings Lodge residents showed up Thursday to encourage the board to reconsider.
“We feel forgotten,”said Elizabeth Bentley, who has lived in the area since 1962. “We know it won’t be easy, but the residents of Jennings Lodge are ready and willing to help.”
The unincorporated area between Oak Grove and Gladstone is identified as an “underserved” area in the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District’s master plan. The district includes the cities of Happy Valley and Milwaukie, along with the largely urban unincorporated Clackamas and Oak Grove areas. The residents worry that if the board passes up on the evangelical center property, there won’t be another opportunity to create a park in the area, because Jennings Lodge is developed to its limit already.
Savas sees it as a matter of equity — the parks district built ballfields for the nearby city of Happy Valley, but hasn’t spent nearly as much money in the densely urbanized unincorporated northern Clackamas area that includes Jennings Lodge.
The board briefly discussed the idea during an Aug. 15 work session. It didn’t get much traction, because the cash-strapped parks district would probably have to buy the land, which could be several million dollars. Jennings Lodge residents continued lobbying for a park, though, pulling Oregon City Rep. Brent Barton into the discussion. So, Savas, Schrader, Barton, Metro and state parks officials met with county staff to see if they could make the deal pencil out.
Savas and Schrader faced skepticism from the remaining commissioners because of the high cost of buying the land, then dealing with the estimated 50 buildings on the property to turn it into parkland.
The process got more complicated when Commissioners Tootie Smith and John Ludlow began shifting focus to their idea of separating the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District from the county entirely.
The parks agency is a special district, with its own advisory board, that is overseen by the county. Ultimately, the board of commissioners makes decisions for financing and operations of the district. Smith has long been a proponent of splitting the district off from the county to govern itself.
At the board’s Dec. 18 study session, Ludlow said the parks district should be stable before taking on any new projects.
“Before I ever agree to take on the Jennings Lodge park idea, I will adopt a stance along with Tootie that they need to take care of themselves,” Ludlow said.
Savas maintains the county could acquire the property using system development charges or a loan, combined with grant money from the state. Without the support of the board, though, he pledged to work with an attorney and financial adviser on his own to pencil out a funding plan that takes the burden off the county from funding the whole project.
“I think there’s a way to get it done that doesn’t hurt the county general fund and doesn’t hurt the parks district,” Savas said.
Commissioner Jim Bernard suggested that Lodge residents consider forming a nonprofit, similar to Celebrate Milwaukie Inc. Bernard, former mayor of Milwaukie, and longtime Milwaukie resident Ed Zumwalt created the nonprofit to fund community-enhancement projects, and it still funds the annual Milwaukie Daze festival and Milwaukie Farmers Market.
“If you’ve got a good group together and potential funding opportunities, I don’t think any of us would disagree we could look into that,” Bernard said about hope that the board might be willing to consider the idea if it seems feasible once fleshed out.
Ludlow and Smith agreed that they would consider an option that doesn’t require large spending or debt for the parks district.
— Molly Harbarger