History of the Evans-Benz Property in Yachats
View the Future and the City have been involved for the past year in efforts to acquire approximately 32 acres on both sides of the Yachats River for a park and natural preserve. The property is privately owned and the owners would like to sell it as a conservation property. Below is a short history of the campaign so far.
Easily visible from Yachats River Road just past Quiet Water, the Evans/Betz property consists of two parcels. The larger, on the south side of the river, is a wooded hillside which borders the Yachats River and includes several small streams which flow into the river. The property is within the city limits and is zoned R-1, theoretically allowing as many as fifty units to be built, although due to the topography, it is unlikely that it could actually be built out at that density. Roads would have to be built and utilities installed for development to take place.
Bear, elk, cougars, river otters, and many other animals inhabit this area. This area would be left in its natural condition, with a hiking trail and perhaps some wildlife viewing areas for quiet recreational use.
On the north bank of the river, there is a flat area of approximately 3.5 acres. This would be a perfect location for picnic tables. It is sheltered from the wind and allows access to the river for fishing, launching paddle-craft, or just sitting quietly to enjoy the river as it flows by. It is easily accessible and there is a parking area on the east side of the site. Any plans for using this area will need input from the community and funding for amenities and maintenance.
The Yachats River is the salient feature of this property. Salmon use the river to access their spawning sites and also for the passage of young fish as they head out to the ocean. Certain features, both natural and human-made, have caused serious degradation of the water quality in this area, threatening fish passage and the health of many other animals and plants in and around the river. Increased development is one of the factors that compromise riparian health. Withdrawals of water during peak demand, at the end of the summer when flows are already low, further threaten the health of the river and creatures who depend on it for life.
Possible acquisition by the City
A couple of years ago, the property owners contacted the former chair of View the Future and asked if there might be some interest in acquiring this property for conservation purposes. View the Future agreed to be involved, to work on fundraising, and to hold a conservation easement on the property if acquisition efforts were successful.
Lincoln Land Legacy, under the direction of the county counsel, Wayne Belmont, agreed to fund an appraisal. An initial estimate of $1.3M was established.
The City agreed to contribute $200,000 in matching funds from the Visitor Amenity Fund, a portion of the transient room tax assessed on motels and vacation rentals. These funds can only be spent on projects that will benefit visitors to Yachats, although of course city residents can also use them. The City also agreed to hold title to the property if acquisition efforts were successful.
Trust for Public Land agreed to work with the City and View the Future to find the balance of the funds. Their first grant application went to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). In March, 2018, OWEB staff issued a report to the Board recommending against funding the project because it didn’t meet OWEB’s strict interpretation of what their funds can be used for.
TPL then turned to the Oregon Department of Parks & Recreation (OPRD). Funds are available under OPRD’s Large Grant program. TPL staff wrote an excellent grant application, which was due on April 1, 2018.
Meanwhile, Trust for Public Land was, of course, required to do due diligence on the value of the property. It is very important to remember that organizations like TPL as well as funding agencies like the Watershed Enhancement Board and State Parks are required to pay only what a property is worth, as established by a reputable appraiser. TPL was concerned about the possible underestimation of the costs of developing the property as well as some other potential constraints which would limit the number of units that could actually be built on the property. A geologist and an engineer examined the property and identified some of those limitations, which, in their opinion, greatly reduced the value of the property.
Although the owners were willing to discuss the issues, they disagreed with the low valuation. Without agreement, Trust for Public Land felt the State Parks grant application could not go forward and decided not to apply this year.
This project is still viable! Trust for Public Land has agreed to continue working with the property owners to come to agreement on a fair price and to apply for State Parks funding in their next application cycle. View the Future and the City are committed to working with TPL to support the grant application and think about other funding options.WE ARE NOT GIVING UP AND NEITHER ARE THE OWNERS! We are still involved in active negotiations and are both committed to finding an acceptable outcome.
The Long Game
Conservation opportunities often require patience and perseverance. Another project, at Big Creek in Lane County between Yachats and Florence, took more than 35 years before the property was finally secured, paid for, and transferred to State Parks.
View the Future looks forward to continuing efforts to secure the Yachats River Park and Nature Preserve. We have pledges for funding the development of a management plan for the property and will continue to work with the City, Trust for Public Land, and the owners to buy this property!
We welcome your questions and comments.