Letters to the Editor - July 19, 2013

Modification not trivial

On July 5, a News-Register editorial called on leaders to support a proposal to develop a 600-acre “world-class equestrian resort” on property zoned Exclusive Farm Use near Willamina. The editorial also painted the National Resources Conservation Service as the “bad guy” for performing its duty to protect a permanent conservation easement, acquired with taxpayer dollars, which occupies a portion of the property.

Modification of a permanent conservation easement is not a trivial matter, even in the face of enticements offered by a developer. Rubber-stamping modifications without demonstration of a clear and substantial public need or benefit could set a terrible precedent. Publicly owned conservation easements here and elsewhere would become vulnerable to the whims of developers.

Unfortunately, the easement question is only a side issue. In addition to equestrian facilities for “elite horsemen,” the plan envisions such “agricultural” features as a luxury hotel, brewery, cheese-making facility, distillery and wine tasting facility. The larger issue of whether these urban uses are consistent with the Exclusive Farm Use designation has, so far, been carefully kept out of sight.

These urban amenities should be located within the urban growth area of a nearby town where the local economy can benefit directly. They do not belong in a gated development on tax-deferred Exclusive Farm Use land. Meanwhile, the developer is conducting an aggressive promotional campaign by staging rallies with paid picketers, courting government officials with sweeping promises of economic prosperity, and pressuring them to sign prefabricated letters of support. 

Writing as secretary-treasurer, Friends of Yamhill County, we fully support our local communities in their desire to improve their economic base responsibly. However, our officials should think twice before allowing themselves to be herded into premature endorsements based on hype.

It is totally inappropriate for public decision makers to endorse developments they may later have to rule upon.

Craig Markham


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