Oregon council last week voted 5-2 to rescind an ordinance to buy property on Pickle Road that would have been used as a passive park.
Council on March 23 had narrowly passed an ordinance by a vote of 4-3 to purchase the property from George and Carrie Tschann, 3521 Pickle Road, for $195,000. Since then, several opponents of the purchase showed up at subsequent council meetings to express their disapproval.
Many said they didn’t think the city should buy the property during a recession. Others were opposed because they thought the city should give priority to other projects deemed more important.
Council can rescind ordinances 30 days after they vote on them so long as they are not passed on emergency, which take effect immediately.
Councilman Mike Seferian, who voted against the purchase last month, brought the matter up again at a meeting April 13. This time, Councilmen James Seaman and Terry Reeves, who initially voted in favor of the purchase last month, joined Seferian and Councilmen Bill Myers and Jerry Peach to rescind the purchase of the property. Councilmen Mike Sheehy and Clint Wasserman, who voted for the purchase last month, voted against rescinding the ordinance.
The community was unaware last month that council was going to consider buying the property, Seferian said to council.
“I believe that the community didn’t really understand what this council was acting on – they had no knowledge of it. Certain council members may have heard only from certain people who were in favor of this. They had believed that possibly more of the community was in support of this action than actually were in favor of it. I think some public outcry was there and announced fairly loudly that they thought this was possibly a bad purchase at this time.”
Reeves said he had changed his mind because “there’s been a lot of public outcry against the purchase of this property.”
“It’s all about timing. We have so many people right now who are worried from day to day about their own personal finances,” he said.
Since last week, Reeves said he’s received six to seven calls per day opposed to the purchase of the property.
“I haven’t had anyone call and tell me that it’s a good thing,” he said.
Buying the property, he added, made him uncomfortable at a time when the school board was eliminating several teacher positions to avoid a multi-million dollar deficit.
“Right now, the purchase of this land, in my opinion, is not fiscally responsible,” said Reeves.
“When economic times turn around, that’s the time we should revisit this. If the property’s still there, let’s buy it and make it a passive park,” he said.
Sheehy said the property would have provided a parkland for the south side of Navarre Avenue.
“This would have been an opportunity for us to acknowledge there’s no parkland, no public recreation, in that part of the city,” he said.
In addition, the public frequently gives high priority to the creation and preservation of green space.
“It is, in fact, a city planners dream,” said Sheehy. “Here we have 15-acres of wooded area, absolutely a pristine piece of property, which is surrounded by eight to 10 subdivisions on the perimeter within a five minute walk.”
He also noted that the city is financially sound and can afford to purchase the property.
“Other municipal governments are having problems. But because of careful management and spending and wise investing, we are financially in a position to make the purchase of this property and do it very comfortably,” said Sheehy. “We have a rainy day fund that is probably twice as large as I’ve ever seen it. We’re doing very well.”
Seferian agreed that the city has funds available to buy the property.
“But we still have projects out there that exceed any amount of funds that we have available. So there are a lot of projects on hold,” said Seferian. “This would score way down the priority list.”
Mayor Marge Brown said the Tschanns have discussed selling the property to the city for the last 10 years.
“This has not been an overnight item that’s happened,” said Brown.
Wasserman said he respected both sides of the issue, but decided it was time to buy the property after reviewing municipal and economic forecasts.
Seaman said he changed his vote because he thought the price was too high.
“The other thing is, what would it cost to maintain it? I would like to see some numbers on just keeping the grass mowed and what minimal improvements we’d have to make,” said Seaman. “A little more planning would not hurt.”
He believed negotiations will continue.
“I have a feeling it will be there for a long time. I don’t see a developer going in there,” said Seaman.
Wasserman, though, had his doubts.
After speaking to the negotiation counsel for the Tschanns’, he learned there was a bid for the property last fall that was $2,000 more per acre than what the city had agreed to pay for it.
“It might be gone tomorrow,” he said.