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City deal for park slips away.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 8/18/04): An article on Page A1 in the Aug. 5 Register-Guard incorrectly listed the owner of a 38-acre parcel off Dillard Road that the city of Eugene is seeking to acquire as park land. The parcel is owned by DDA Oregonia, a partnership of members of the Katul family. Eugene resident Munir Katul says he is not a member of the partnership, but is serving as its local representative.

Novice home buyers aren't the only ones who can have an attractive property snapped out from under their noses by a savvy investor.

The city of Eugene recently missed out on an environmentally valuable 38-acre swath of steep forest off Dillard Road that it eagerly wanted to add to the 1,000-plus-acre Ridgeline Park network in the south hills.

Now, the property is in the hands of a Portland-area developer who says he's willing to sell it to the city, but only if the city pays him almost twice the $325,000 he paid for it in May. If the city doesn't buy the land, the developer has said he wants to put scores of homes there - a prospect that has sent city parks officials scrambling for cash.

The stream-laced parcel is one of the most pristine unprotected natural areas within Eugene and Springfield, containing old-growth Douglas fir, plus habitat suitable for rare plants and a rare species of frog, the city says.

Over the past few years, city officials talked with the previous owner, Munir Katul, and said they thought they had reached a tentative deal to buy the parcel in the Amazon headwaters for about $300,000.

But in May, the Eugene resident sold the parcel to Joe Green, the Portland-area developer. The land is inside the city's urban growth boundary and is zoned for single-family housing.

Green in February had met with city planning officials to discuss carving the land into a 77- to 115-home subdivision. And Katul had met with planning officials in May 2003 to talk about developing the property, records show.

But the city isn't giving up yet. City officials now are trying to buy the parcel from Green, who is asking for $600,000.

The messy dealings are an unfortunate glitch in an otherwise successful campaign by the city to buy more than 300 acres with money earmarked for open space acquisition in a 1998 bond issue, said Andrea Riner, Eugene parks and open space planning manager.

"This has been one of the more heartbreaking negotiations," she said. "Nobody did anything wrong; it's just the way things go sometimes."

Three years ago, the city bought from Katul 54 acres to the south of the 38-acre parcel. The city paid $613,102, Lane County land records show. During those discussions, city officials also expressed interest in the 38 acres, Riner said.

Later, city officials reached a loose, verbal agreement with Katul to buy about 20 of the 38 acres for $300,000, with Katul donating the remaining 18 acres to the city, said Russ Royer, city senior real property officer. The was never formalized, however.

Green had a pre-existing written agreement with Katul, which Green decided to exercise before the city could buy the land, Royer said.

Katul and Green did not return a reporter's phone calls seeking comment.

Now, the city is trying to raise the money to buy the land at the newly inflated price.

The city has $150,000 from the 1998 bond issue, plus $150,000 from a stream corridor protection fund to spend on the land. The city also is seeking a $300,000 grant from the state Parks and Recreation Department. The city will present its request on Tuesday, Riner said.

Competition for the $1.45 million pool of grant money is fierce. The state agency has received 19 applications requesting a total of $4.8 million, said Marilyn Lippincott, a grants project coordinator with the department. The State Parks Commission will approve grant projects on Sept. 2.

"I feel we have a very good shot," Riner said, adding that Eugene has won agency grants before for the Delta Ponds project and regional trails development.

In the grant application, the city calls the 38 acres, "probably the most pristine, unprotected natural area in the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area, and one of the least disturbed habitat sites within Eugene's south hills."

In case the city doesn't get the grant, it has arranged $300,000 in bridge financing from The Nature Conservancy, an international nonprofit group, which will give the city a couple of years to apply for other grants, Riner said.

Royer said the city is having the land appraised. If Green and the city cannot agree on a price, the city has the option of condemning the property and having the court set a price.
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Title Annotation:Government; Despite an understanding, a pristine swath of forest is sold to a Portland developer who nearly doubles the asking price
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 5, 2004
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