Commissioners hear testimony on Marr Ranch plat appeals

From top: Rahn Hostetter, K & B Limited Partnership; Rick Eichstaedt, Nez Perce Tribe; Mildred Fraser, Three party consortium; Artie Huber, Tribes of the Umatilla; Mark Tipperman, City of Joseph; and Stephen Suagee, Tribes of the Colville. Photos by Kim Lamb

Having to make a binding decision no later than Feb. 14, the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners continued five separate appeal hearings until 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2 when it met Tuesday afternoon concerning the Marr Ranch Subdivision located between Joseph and Wallowa Lake.

Commissioner Ben Boswell said that no further testimony will be accepted at the Feb. 2 meeting when the commissioners will publicly deliberate toward a decision.

Appeals of the Wallowa County Planning Commission's decision in November to approve an 11-parcel, five-acre lot subdivision were voiced by the city of Joseph, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville and the consortium of Mildred Fraser, Liam O'Callahan and Lynne Price. Each appellant was given 10 minutes to reiterate their case followed by 10 minutes of rebuttal from the applicant, in this case attorney Rahn Hostetter representing K & B Limited Partnership. The appellants then had one minute to respond.

The Marr property is located in Joseph's urban growth boundary (UGB).

Because the task of the commissioners is to determine whether or not the planning commission erred in its decision, no new testimony was to be allowed into the record. Commission Chairman Mike Hayward asked county counsel Dan Ousley and planning department staff to wade through the testimony and determine what should not be included in their decision making process.

The three Native American appeals were based on the premise that the subdivision site which borders the Old Chief Joseph Burial Monument is of archeological importance and that efforts to protect possible artifacts should be made before the land is developed. Much of the testimony suggested that a level 2 survey should be conducted, though the definition of a level 2 survey was not made clear. Joseph attorney Mark Tipperman suggested that a level 2 survey was a survey that penetrated the surface of the ground.

Hostetter argued repeatedly that, though two potential archeological sites have been identified, that they are protected by conditions put on the applicant by the planning commission. He disagreed with spokesmen Rick Eichstaedt of the Nez Perce Tribe, Artie Huber of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and Stephen Suagee of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville that the entire property was potentially an archaeological site.

"The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has never found the Marr property to be a significant site. Yet the planning commission is treating it as a significant site," said Hostetter.

In his allotted 10 minutes Tipperman skimmed through a number of exceptions the city of Joseph is taking to the planning commission's findings of fact which documented its decision. He argued against the proposed subdivision, contending that five acre minimum lot size could cause rural "islands" in the future when Joseph expands into its (UGB). He also stated that the planning commission did not take into consideration the city's land use plan when it made its decision.

Hostetter argued that neither the city's land use plan nor the county's comprehensive land use plan were germane to the question of the subdivision within the UGB, that only zoning ordinances would apply.

Fraser and her consortium took a different tact, arguing that both county and city comprehensive plans should apply. She opposed the subdivision on grounds that it is in the Wallowa Lake moraine area and that state Goal 5 regulations should apply. She said that the protection of cultural resources are mandatory in a Goal 5 zone.

Boswell said that he was a member of the planning commission 20 years ago when the Marr property came up for consideration. He said that the issues are the same but that the knowledge on the matter has grown significantly.

At Hostetter's recommendation it was agreed that all appellants and the applicant would have seven days, until 5 p.m. Jan. 20, to submit a written summary of their arguments.

"It is time that we move on with the proper development of the land," said Hostetter.

It is likely that any decision reached by the board of commissioners will be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

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