Bend Bulletin - View easement staves off development of land near Deschutes, for now

This article was published on: 12/17/21 9:26 PM

Agreement with Mt. Bachelor Village protects forested land until 2034

By Michael Kohn

Bend-based property developer Pahlisch Homes says it has no immediate plans to build houses in the Deschutes Canyon near Mt. Bachelor Village even if it manages to purchase the land from the current owner, the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Jessica Seidel, a spokesperson for Pahlisch Homes, described the company’s plan as a “long-term land purchase” and the construction of homes could still be years away.

The land Pahlisch wants to buy from the irrigation district is located between the Deschutes River and Brookswood Boulevard.

The irrigation district owns around 130 acres of land in the area and is planning to sell 80 acres to Pahlisch as it no longer has a need to hold large tracts of land in the city.

While Pahlisch sees an opportunity to bring more housing to a relatively central area of Bend, opponents say the land should be preserved in perpetuity as a park.

But a view easement held by the Mt. Bachelor Village Homeowners Association protects most of the forested area from development until 2034. Seidel said Pahlisch Homes has “no intention” of contesting the easement. The easement stays in effect as long as the irrigation district keeps its hydro facility in the area operational, or until 2034, whichever comes first.

While the view easement is designed to protect homeowners in Mt. Bachelor Village, changes are afoot across the river where the land is a peaceful enclave of trees, High Desert vegetation, rocky escarpments and wildlife. The area is now being carved up into three parcels by the irrigation district. One of the parcels includes the pipes and other infrastructure that convey water from the Deschutes River to the Central Oregon canal, as well as a hydroelectric facility.

Aaron Henson, senior planner for the city of Bend, said portions of the remaining two parcels could be developed for housing.

Some portions of these parcels are situated close to the river and will remain protected under Bend’s so-called “areas of special interest.” These are described in the city’s general plan as places that have features typical of Central Oregon or represent significant wildlife areas. Other areas could be developed once the view easement expires.

While the portion of the land closer to the river appears to be protected from development for at least a dozen years, the land closer to Brookswood Boulevard that is not subject to the easement is likely to be developed in a shorter timeframe. This 9-acre tract of land is part of the sale to Pahlisch, said Craig Horrell, general manager for Central Oregon Irrigation District.

“Some of the land by Brookswood is not in the view easement, so Pahlisch could consider developing it,” said Deby DeWeese, vice chair for the Southern Crossing Neighborhood Association. “That would literally break my neighbors’ hearts, and it would create serious traffic issues on Brookswood depending upon how many units.”

A main concern of DeWeese is the fate of the trails in the irrigation district property if homes are built around them. Bend Park & Recreation District has said it will work with Pahlisch to ensure the trail that runs from Brookswood to the irrigation district land is not destroyed, DeWeese said.

“That is not just a gorgeous trail with a beautiful tree canopy, but it provides two of the three entrances to the trail system that SCNA neighbors use,” said DeWeese, referring to the neighborhood association.

DeWeese added that the area is also a “major alternative transportation route” for walkers and bicyclists heading for Blakely Park, the Old Mill, Farewell Bend Park, and the Haul Trail.

Save Bend Green Space — a group that is lobbying to preserve the land as a natural area — has placed signs near Brookswood and Reed Market Road that urge the public and officials to “save Deschutes South Canyon.”

Roberta Silverman, a member of the steering committee of Save Bend Green Space, said the goal of the group is to preserve the land as a park similar to Shevlin Park or Riley Ranch.

“All of Bend and future generations will benefit from keeping this unique wildlife corridor undeveloped and open for recreation,” said Silverman. “Deschutes South Canyon is an irreplaceable public treasure used for strolling, dog walking, hiking, biking, birding, snowshoeing, and more on many nature trails leading to the river.

“The city has a historic opportunity to create a natural area park in southern Bend like Shevlin Park to the north,” she added.

Bend Park & Recreation District has previously stated it does not have the funds to purchase the land.

“If the park district were to pursue this property, it would take a bond measure to fund it,” said Don Horton, the park district’s executive director. “We could not fund it out of existing resources.”

Silverman believes it’s possible to raise the funds through donations and grants and then gift the land to Bend Park & Recreation District.

“Our hope is to work in cooperation with Bend Park & Recreation in raising the funds,” said Silverman. “However, we cannot begin raising funds while the sale agreement between COID and Pahlisch remains in effect.”