CORRECTION (ran 10/15/04): A group of neighbors involved in a fund-raising campaign to buy a vacant two-acre parcel at W. 22nd Avenue and Madison Street in Eugene hopes to raise money by the end of the year for a $220,000 down payment to the current owner, and then would assume from the seller a debt of about $230,000 that he had taken out to help buy the property. An article on Page G1 in Sunday's Register-Guard implied incorrectly that the neighborhood group would owe the debt to the seller.
A grass-roots campaign to save a two-acre meadow west of College Hill from being turned into a housing subdivision is no longer quite what it started out as a year ago.
It has evolved from a simple effort by neighbors to raise money to buy the land from a previous owner who was considering selling to an out-of-the-area developer, into a complex fight between the neighbors and a new owner.
The new owner now wants to build homes on part of the land and set aside the remainder as public space, but remains bound by a purchase option he signed last year with a group of neighbors committed to preserving the entire parcel.
The deal has turned into a contentious neighborhood brawl, full of distrust and accusations of deception and overstatement - flying in both directions.
"We've spent so much time trying to make things beautiful, trying to make them positive - even our signs, our brochures," says Linda Prier, an organizer of the group calling itself Madison Meadow - after the property it is trying to preserve, at Madison Street and West 22nd Avenue in Eugene.
The group wants to buy the land for a total of $450,000.
"We've tried to make statements that are as honest as they can be, but not an alarmist thing," Prier says.
What's most galling to the group of neighbors is that even as they now near their goal of raising a $220,000 down payment - thanks in part to an anonymous promise of $100,000 - the property's owner has begun promoting a new development idea to preserve part of the meadow without any cost to the neighborhood.
That, the neighbors say, threatens to cut the legs out from under their fund-raising effort.
And, they say, there's no guarantee that the developer would actually preserve part of the meadow.
"This was just another piece to the whole thing that we did not expect," Prier says.
The conflict illustrates the woes that can arise when vacant land deep within an established neighborhood comes up for grabs.
The conflict dates to 2003, when the property was put up for sale. A group of neighbors began an effort to save it from development.
Then Paul Niedermeyer - a contractor who lives nearby - bought the land and offered the preservationist group a year to raise money.
The sides signed an option agreement spelling out the deal.
The Madison Meadows group would reimburse Niedermeyer for his $450,000 purchase price plus his costs in holding the property until Dec. 31, 2004, minus a sum for an old farmhouse and its 10,000-square-foot lot, which Niedermeyer would keep.
The neighbors must produce a down payment of $220,000 by the end of the year, and pay the balance of about $230,000 within three years.
The neighbors' fund-raising effort gained strong momentum earlier this year. And then abruptly in the past two weeks, Niedermeyer began promoting his alternative plan. Under that proposal, if neighbors were unable to raise the money, he'd keep the property and build eight houses along its east and west sides. He said he'sd keep its middle - about an acre - as open space with guaranteed public access.
That, he says, is in contrast to the plans of another potential buyer of the property last year who wanted to subdivide to the maximum allowable density and build 18 to 22 houses.
Niedermeyer bought the property after attending early meetings of the preservation group. He says he didn't like the idea of someone from outside the neighborhood putting in an out-of-scale housing development. But he says he also wasn't keen on a huge neighborhood fund-raising effort.
"I backed away (from the preservation effort), personally, because I felt I couldn't hold hands with 30 people and jump off the cliff to the tune of a half-million dollars," he says.
Still, he did sign the option agreement to sell the property to the neighborhood group.
Niedermeyer says he's touting his new idea as a way of preserving the heart of Madison Meadow without the need for a fund-raising drive. The one-acre "commons" area would be owned by those who bought the eight houses, but deed restrictions would permanently designate it as open space, he said.
Niedermeyer says he isn't trying to hamstring the fund raising by the Madison Meadow group and leave them unable to exercise the purchase option.
"That's not what I'm trying to do," he says, defending fliers he has produced that appear to promote his plan over that of the preservation group. "I'm not in any way saying, 'Don't donate.' I have just felt it necessary or appropriate to respond to misinformation."
In a flier he recently distributed, Niedermeyer did, however, say that giving money to the neighbors' preservation effort was a waste because he intended to preserve half of the site anyway.
Niedermeyer contends that the Madison Meadow group continues to solicit donations by raising fears of the property being lost to a rental-grade housing development - which has never been among his plans - should the fund-raising campaign fall short.
Niedermeyer said publicly early this summer that he would likely offer eight homesites of 9,000 square feet each if his neighbors are unsuccessful in their fund raising.
Yet even after he revised his plan last month to include a one-acre commons among the eight homes, the Madison Meadow neighborhood group's Web site (www.madisonmeadow.org) warned that the land is owned by a "local developer with plans for building between seven and 16 homes on it."
But Doug Yook, secretary of the nonprofit Madison Meadow group, says Niedermeyer's plans keep changing.
"A couple weeks back, he was telling someone he was going to build on the frontage (across the middle of the meadow), and before that he was telling people he was going to sell the whole thing," Yook says. "So there have been many different plans."
As for the current proposal by Niedermeyer, the Madison Meadow board of directors last week concluded that it doesn't meet their goals and that they won't accept it.
"We're very close to getting the money that we need (for the Dec. 31 down payment)," Yook says. "We've had donations from over 200 people, so it's clear the neighborhood supports the effort."
There's also the matter of the meadow's character. The Madison Meadow group is particularly keen to preserve the old orchard that still contains filbert, apple and pear trees.
Yook says Niedermeyer's plan wouldn't do that. The open space it proposes for the middle of the site "is really just kind of a lawn for those eight houses," Yook says.
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|Title Annotation:||Real Estate & Housing; Eugene developer battles neighbors over plans for west Eugene site|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 10, 2004|
|Next Article:||Employees not happy with 'comp' lunch time.|