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Once-golden destination resorts face uncertain future

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Articles - July 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010

“The new resorts were clearly geared to living there full-time, and not geared to the public,” says Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem. “I grew up in Coos Bay and I don’t think the only option is to have to move to a city to get a job. I want to see tourism helped, and resorts may end up playing a role, but they can’t be about permanent second homes.

“I tried to go to Pronghorn and the guard at the gate wouldn’t let me in.”

The gated Pronghorn, located between Bend and Redmond, has become for some a prime example of resorts gone wrong. Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, said during a May resort work group meeting that Pronghorn hasn’t met its requirements, including a hotel, and should never have been approved. Deschutes County planning director Nick LeLack says the development “met the letter of the law.”

Pronghorn, which was approved by the county in 2002, has two operating golf courses, 60 of its 374 homes built, and 48 of its required 192 overnight units completed. It has an extension by Deschutes County until 2013 to build its hotel. Managing partner Tom Hix says they will meet that timeline. “We don’t survive unless we have a public component, but you can’t build a hotel on day one,” he says. “You can’t finance it.” He adds that Dingfelder’s remarks are “short-sighted” because the local economy benefits from the resort’s 85 year-round jobs, the $2.5 million it paid in taxes last year and the $700,000 its foundation has given to the community so far.

And those gates that keep out Rep. Clem and presumably other members of the wandering public? Are they conducive to attracting tourism? “There are gated resorts all over the country, all over the world,” Hix says. “Being gated is a natural situation because you have a lot of money invested.”

Alarm over the rapid proliferation of resorts reached a peak statewide and in the Legislature in 2009 when Jefferson County attempted to bring destination resorts to its economically beleaguered county. “They looked at their opportunities,” says Mike McArthur, executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties, “and there were few.”

Jefferson approved two destination resorts in the Metolius River basin in 2006. One was developer Jim Kean’s Metolian, located inside the basin, comprised of 450 homes and a 180-unit lodge. The second, the Ponderosa, planned 2,500 homes and 1,000 overnight units. The fight to stop the resorts went all the way to the Legislature. It was an emotional, heated fight that called into question the motives of legislators with homes in the area. Thousands of Oregonians protested the resorts and the county sued the state, saying it had violated its own planning laws. In the end, the Legislature made the basin an area of critical concern, stopping the Metolian and downsizing the Ponderosa.


Remington Ranch has completed 75% of one golf course. It had planned three golf courses, along with 800 homes and 400 overnight units.

In the same session, a resort reform effort that would have removed some regulations on resorts but overall tighten the rules was defeated. Sponsored by Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, and supported by Jackie Dingfelder, the bill called for removing the current requirement for a large footprint, the $10 million for recreational amenities and the minimum number of overnight units. It also required developers to address workforce housing, emergency services and traffic impacts, and banned resorts in some irrigation districts (which would prevent water rights from farmland being transferred to developers) and wildfire areas. And it gave the state Land Conservation and Development Commission additional say in determining whether a resort was appropriate.

The Sierra Club endorsed the bill saying it would “assure that the future resorts are built on the model of Sunriver and Black Butte Ranch, which are genuine visitor-serving facilities, instead of the Pronghorn model which is really a gated luxury golf community for second homeowners.” There’s a bit of irony in the reference to Black Butte, which was started before the state wrote its resort rules. “In 1960, we needed four governmental permits,” remembers Mike Hollern of Brooks Resources.




A. Kirk
0 #1 And history repeats itself...A. Kirk 2010-06-28 15:24:25
This reminds me of a TV show I saw on OPB not long ago where Christmas Valley was going to be all divided up into a beautiful resort/subdivis ion, etc. The developer flew people from California to the middle of the desert in planes and the people who bought places to live just about died the first winter because there was a horrible storm. It's practically a ghost town now. Sad how these things go... of course we're a little more modern and educated these days but not always. http://www.opb.org/programs/oregonexperiencearchive/reublong/book.php
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Susan Quatre
0 #2 Very accurate reporting of what's up with DRs in OregonSusan Quatre 2010-06-30 14:11:35
As a Deschutes County resident and a former county planning commissioner, I have seen the withering of the once valuable destination resort. I am very impressed with the breadth of opinion cited by Robin Doussard offered. Just one look at the map shown on page 3 or 4 shows clearly shows the perversion of what once was a great idea intended to bring visitors to Eastern Oregon. Greed took over and saturated the area with misuse of the laws intended to soften the blow of the loss of the timber industry.

No community can rely on one source of economic stability. Deschutes county and the cities within relied too heavily on the construction of new homes and "rural subdivisions" as its basis of growth. It had to come to an end. Had we instead looked to fostering eco-tourism and establishing laws that allowed for better use of the land that is often too poor for farming (events, weddings, RV parks), some degree of economic stability could be realized. I am in favor of the concept of small destination resorts but the last proposal I saw did not allow for RV parks. Recreation and eco-tourism should continue to be Eastern Oregon's goal: not rural subdivisions.

I searched and searched for the Christmas Valley report but could not find it. Any more specifics would be appreciated.

Thank you for the fine article.
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0 #3 Christmas ValleyBrian 2010-07-08 10:59:51
The Christmas Valley stuff was part of an OPB program on Reub Long. You can' watch it online here:

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