The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Planning Commission to consider Santiam Commons riverside development


July 20, 2005

Of The New Era

Owners of a portion of 752 acres along the Santiam River have submitted preliminary subdivision drawings for 434 residential lots to the Sweet Home Planning Commission for approval.

The Planning Commission will hear the request by Western States Land Reliance Trust at its Aug. 1 meeting.

The subdivision is the first of 1,575 residential units that have been approved in a master plan developed by the WSLRT and Santiam River Club for 752 acres in the Sweet Home city limits.

The proposed developments are planned for most of the area between the railroad and the river and 24th Avenue and Wiley Creek.

The subdivision to be considered by the Planning Commission covers approximately 84.45 acres on the west end of the project area, straddling old Morse Bros. and Willamette Industries property owned by WSLRT, a nonprofit organization, which is required to give 85 percent of its proceeds to charities. WSLRT provides funds to eight local charities and one statewide charity.

To the south and southwest of the subdivision, WSLRT is planning to develop the Santiam Commons and potter's village, which includes a variety of features that will be open to the public. WSLRT also is working with the Sweet Home Economic Development Group and the city of Sweet Home to develop a permanent amphitheater and stage for the Oregon Jamboree and other events.

Dan Desler, managing trustee for WSLRT, describes the subdivision as a reclamation project.

"We want to incorporate reclamation into the subdivision plan," Desler said. "There are no shortcuts. We're going beyond our permit requirements (exceeding the minimum standards for reclamation). The current reclamation plan isn't pretty."

Desler wants to win an award for reclaiming the old quarry.

"We'll fill it where it makes sense," Desler said. "And we may deepen some of the ponds."

The proposed subdivision will be built along private roads, parts of them gated, like development plans to the east on Santiam River Club property.

Dirt may be turned this year in the proposed subdivision, Desler said. "I received a conditional commitment for funding improvements to the trust property for $274 million. You don't have it until conditions are met.

"The actual capital comes from a group that funds philanthropic projects that provide a benefit. They're looking for projects that espouse environmental excellence."

This project will fit perfectly, Desler said. WSLRT is planning to use "sustainable building techniques" and restoreexisting mill buildings along with its reclamation plan.

When WLSRT meets the conditions, it will not only be able to develop this subdivision, it will be able to go to work on other parts of the Santiam Commons area, including a continuing care facility, the potter's village, a greenhouse, an Orvis store and the amphitheater. Continuing care includes independent living, retirement and assisted living components.

Desler continues to mull over even more development ideas. Among them, WSLRT is contemplating green and solar power facilities to provide energy to the project and possibly to the Sweet Home community.

"This project will be absolutely leading-edge in the nation," Desler predicted.

Within the subdivision, the trust plans to choose custom builders and provide financing to them to build "spec homes," Desler said, and the trust has used and will continue to use local contractors where possible.

He anticipates drawing down the available financing in 18 to 24 months.

Upon Planning Commission approval, Desler plans to start clearing and finalizing engineering.

"Depending on what kind of winter we have, there's a chance we could work through the winter and have lots ready to build on next year," Desler said, but underground construction after Nov. 15 is "a crapshoot." That's why he wants to get approvals in place as early as possible.

During its chance to comment on proposed land uses, the District 55 School Board raised concerns about the speed of the development and how many children it would add to the community.

Some 10 percent of the new full-time homes might have children, Desler estimates. Up to half of the homes are expected by WSLRT consultants to be full-time residences. Of those that are, Desler anticipates they will have fewer children than average based on target demographics, including a significant retired population.

The price range on these homes is uncertain at this time depending on several cost factors, Desler said.

About 50 to 60 percent will be second or vacation homes, Desler said. Between 20 and 25 percent will be owned by retirees, and another 20 to 25 percent will be permanent.

On the east end of the overall project, the Santiam River Club has an agreement with the city to provide land for a new water treatment facility.

WSLRT is managed by a board of trustees, including Desler and Margaret Carley of Oreogn Healthcare Foundation, one of the recipient charities, and Denis Cunings of Pension Professionals of Phoenix, Ariz.


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