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Once-golden destination resorts face uncertain future

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Articles - July 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Among those who opposed the bill was Gene Whisnant, who says he supported it “until Nolan changed the bill and put [the Land Conservation and Development Commission] in charge of policy and made changes that would make it economically not viable.” In testimony, he called the bill a “death sentence for rural resorts and the future of some of these rural areas.”

The 2009 bill was defeated, but resort reform came up again in the 2010 special session in a bill passed with bipartisan support that required, among other things, that developers provide an economic impact analysis of cities within certain distances of a proposed resort, along with a traffic analysis and mitigation plan.

Spurred by the defeat of the 2009 resort reform effort, Dingfelder assembled the resort work group — a broad coalition of developers, environmentalists, city and county associations, and state and county leaders with the goal of creating a “new destination resort model that promotes economic development for local economies and is consistent with Oregon’s resource values.” They are working through this year to recommend changes to the existing state statue in the 2011 session.

“I think there are a number of things outdated,” says Dingfelder of current resort rules. “The requirement that there are a set number of acres; the golf course requirement. For instance, no eco-resort model would be allowed. It doesn’t allow for innovation.”

Current standards for large resorts require at least 160 acres of farm or forest land (unless within two miles of ocean, then it’s 40 acres); and resorts must spend at least $10 million on onsite recreation and visitor-oriented accommodations, including restaurants for at least 100 people and 150 separate rentable units. At least 50 of those overnight units must be constructed before the sale of any real estate — a 2007 court affirmation that Jeld-Wen’s Jerry Andres says put the dagger into the heart of the industry.

“The hope of the work group and rural counties is to reform the law to match the vision of a different kind of resort: smaller, greener, leaner,” says Brian Clem, a member of the group. “The law itself is a barrier to a different kind of resort.”

Linda Swearingen says she sees a possible new future not just for new resorts, but those already approved and sitting dead in the water.

“I think we have an opportunity [during the downturn] to work with the entitled resorts and the older Goal 8 resorts and allow them the opportunity to downsize in exchange for some changes in how they develop,” says Swearingen, who was on the development team for Crossing Trails, a 600-acre resort approved by Crook County in 2008 that faced vocal opposition from residents and is being appealed. The plans for Crossing Trails called for 500 homes.

“My hope is to look at what’s already on the ground, the existing entitled resorts, to make them more environmentally friendly, more economically feasible.”

“It’s kind of ironic that now the industry wants a ‘new kind of resort’ that’s really a subdivision,” says Paul Dewey. “They want to build smaller resorts with no requirement of overnights or recreation … The 2-1 ratio [of homes to overnight units] was fraudulent enough.”

To Hood River County Commissioner and developer Maui Meyer, helping this stalled industry is not the point. “Lost in the discussion is will this help people living in rural communities have a better life? Does the grocery owner benefit? To the extent that you can make a living, not a killing, out of it, no one will begrudge resorts,” he says. “But this is not a savior to the rural communities.”

Clem, the chief sponsor of the bill to ban resorts in the Metolius, says he wants to reform the laws to make resorts more economically viable and to mitigate impacts of resorts. “But my concern is not how to bail out resort developers. It is how to enhance the economy of rural economies.”

It’s a critical question about destination resorts: Do they really help rural areas? But there isn’t a definitive answer. Opposing developer and environmentalist camps do not trust each other’s economic studies. After approving eight resorts, Deschutes County — currently remaking its resort map — plans to produce its own “neutral” cost-benefit analysis of resorts for the first time.

Supporters say they clearly help fill county coffers and provide many much-needed jobs (estimated at 2,000 in Central Oregon) without huge impacts on nearby communities. Opponents counter that the proliferation of resorts have huge negative impacts on nearby towns and the environment while creating mostly low-end jobs.



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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