County forecloses on WSLRT properties

Sean C. Morgan

Linn County Assessor Mark Noakes deeded 20 properties owned by Western States Land Reliance Trust to Linn County on Thursday, Dec. 30.

Western States Land Reliance Trust owed six years of property taxes, approximately $505,000, on about 380 acres. The properties make up the former site of a Willamette Industries mill along the north side of Sweet Home between 18th Avenue and Clark Mill Road, accessible at the east end of Tamarack Street and the north end of 24th Avenue.

WSLRT filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in September after reaching the deadline for tax payment.

“It’s up to the county counsel and property manager about what the next steps will be,” Noakes said.

WSLRT had $150,000 in escrow, and it was supposed to have been distributed, said WSLRT Managing Trustee Dan Desler. “I think there was a lack of communication between the attorney and county.”

WSLRT had a problem trying to put together the rest of the money through the holidays, he said. The funding is “definitely” in process, and his attorney is dealing with it.

“It may be a non-issue,” Desler said. “They can always deed it back.”

“Linn County now possesses the deeds to 20 properties,” is all Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey can say at this point, he said Monday.

The commissioners haven’t discussed what to do with the properties yet, and legal issues related to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lien on the property may still need to be sorted out, Lindsey said.

“The question is what do we want to do with the city of Sweet Home? We’ve got to think about this: What’s best for the city of Sweet Home.”

The property is part of a larger master plan that is laid out to include residential and commercial development along the north edge of Sweet Home. Originally, developers planned to construct a golf course and residential development around it.

Plans later shifted toward a mix of housing types and a commercial center. Oregon Jamboree officials had also entered into discusssions with Desler to purchase part of the property as a permanent home for the annual country music festival.

“We are interested in talking with Linn County to see if the property can be turned into a long-term community asset for Sweet Home,” said Kevin Strong, president of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, which stages the Jamboree.

“If the environmental issues can be addressed, the property has a lot of potential for a variety of uses. Ideally, I’d like to see it used in a way that generates some economic development opportunities for Sweet Home.”