City opposes commercial development near springs

<p>Property at the former Joseph Timber Company millsite on Airport Lane is the subject of a county rezoning hearing scheduled for Nov. 27. The City of Enterprise opposes the property owner’s application.</p>

ENTERPRISE – By unanimous vote Monday night, the Enterprise City Council went on record opposing a commercial zoning application for former millsite property near the Joseph Airport but also near springs supplying Enterprise’s drinking water.

The matter now moves to the Wallowa County Planning Commission, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 27. Although the city of Enterprise reviews and votes on land use applications within the city’s watershed, the vote is strictly advisory. The Wallowa County Board of Commissioners issues a binding decision after the county’s planning commission weighs in.

Discussion immediately preceding Monday night’s vote was dominated by concerns that commercial activities could pose a contamination risk to Enterprise’s springs. Enterprise city attorney Roland Johnson noted that this marked the first time that anyone had applied for a change from Rural-Residential to Rural-Commercial within the city’s watershed. Previously, the county had approved a zone change from Industrial to Residential for the same property in the current application, a move city officials viewed as a decrease in risk to water.

The current application, from Paula Krieger’s S&V Properties LLC, seeks commercial zoning for 32.08 acres at 8335 Airport Lane. According to the application, S&V envisions developing “approximately 279,000 square feet of building area, including a warehouse, barn, storage and corral space, secured and unsecured parking for up to 206 vehicles, a helipad, and approximately 25 acres of underlying land with 10 acres irrigated pasture for lease to a governmental agency.”

The City of Enterprise Planning Commission met early in the evening on Monday, in time to hold its own vote on the land use change and provide that input to the city council later that night. City planners’ stance on the issue was more ambiguous than the council’s; commissioners deadlocked, 3-3.

At the council meeting, city attorney Johnson and planning commission chairman Marc Stauffer took turns explaining the commission’s split verdict. Both men said that commissioners favoring the application’s approval cast their votes mindful that water quality protection measures could be imposed during the permitting process for any formally proposed development.

“If the zone change went through, we would still have those permit procedures to protect the city’s springs,” Johnson said.

On the other hand, three other commissioners were worried enough about the increased contamination risk that any commercial development might bring, they considered the zone change itself a step too far.

“You’re changing the criteria by which things are allowed to happen in that zone area,” Stauffer said. With a change to commercial, he said, the property could see “storage of fuel or pesticides or herbicides or things along that line. And if a spill were to occur, it could come into contact with our springs and contaminate them.”

Stauffer said the city planning commission began examining the issue at its Nov. 6 meeting, whereupon it decided it needed more information before deliberating. The commission reconvened Nov. 9 for a field trip to the springs, and reconvened again Monday night, Nov. 12, to deliberate and take a vote.

City councilors, upon hearing the background to the issue, fell into the camp calling for greatest caution, and for a few that attitude may have bordered on alarm.

“It looks dangerous to me,” councilor Tim Parks said of the proposed land use change. “It looks flat-out dangerous.”

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