Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 12th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
"All I want to do is protect our members and our property... This is not a freeway."
— Terry Emmert, owner of the Eastmoreland Racquet Club
Terry Emmert, the owner of the Eastmoreland Racquet Club (and Emmert International), takes full responsibility for erecting an iron gate across a spur of the Springwater Corridor Trail in southeast Portland. Despite outcry from nearby residents who use the short section of the path to access the Springwater, opposition from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), and murky legal standing, Emmert says he's simply protecting his private property.
Today the City of Portland announced that they have reached an agreement with Emmert to move his gate further west, back onto his own property. While this takes the gate off of City property, public access through the Eastmoreland Racquet Club will remain closed.
I spoke with Emmert about this issue on the phone Wednesday.
Emmert recalled the similar dust-up he had with the City of Portland over this issue back in 2004. He said he disagreed with the City's assessment that the easement through his property is part of the Springwater Trail. "They told my daughter they had the God-given right to come through our property... our parking lot... and I said 'no'. It's my understanding that the pass-through through our private property was made only four our members and for residents of the Racquet Club Estates."
Emmert told me stories of many car break-ins, slashed tires, and vandalism on his property. He also said people had established camps on the property and that he has found numerous drug needles in Johnson Creek. "We're not going to tolerate it," he continued, "So I said I'm going to install a locking gate."
Emmert also said his daughter has been approached by "vagrants" as she left the club late one night.
Eventually, Emmert says someone broke down the gate with a sledgehammer several years ago and he never repaired it. "It was out of sight, out of mind," he recalled. He said people had stopped coming through, so he figured the situation would be O.K. Then, more recently, he got a call from someone asking about his liability insurance carrier. "They said they fell off their bike because they hit gravel in one of our parking lots and wanted to know where to turn in their claim." Then another person allegedly asked Emmert to remove the speed bumps in the parking lot so they wouldn't crash while biking. Emmert said the people weren't members of his club so they had no right to be on the property in the first place.
(Photo: Morrie Erickson)
Then when a club member told Emmert she was afraid to leave the club at night, he decided, "Enough is enough. That's it. I'm done."
Emmert says his primary concern is preventing crime and keeping his club members safe. "There are very nice people who ride bikes and who jog," he said, "But you also have a very high crime rate on that corridor and the people that are coming through here are less than desirable."
The way Emmert tells it, he has given the City of Portland many opportunities to take care of the issue, to have more of a police presence, and to do something about all the crime and drug activity. But he says they haven't done enough. "I was down there two days before I put the gate, and I see this man coming down the trail with a backpack and a six-pack of beer. He was so wigged-out on something he was like a tape machine on double speed. He said to me, 'Hey! I live here! How am I going to get down there if you put this gate?!'"
"I'm not going to subject people to that type of encounter," Emmery says, "I'll be damned if we're going to let this happen on our property."
To keep the path open for members and residents (and what he called "responsible people), Emmert said he'd gladly issue keys to the lock and/or install a security key-code.
When I asked Emmert what he thinks about people who are opposed to the loss of access, he said he's sorry it's had to come to this. He also adds that he wants to be a good neighbor and that he's open to working with people to help solve the problem. But he's not budging on the gate. "All I want to do is protect our members and our property... This is not a freeway."
Now that the City has completed the Three Bridges portion of the Springwater (back in 2006), Emmert feels even more strongly that there's no need for the public to have access through his property. "After they put new bridge in, I said, 'Stop sending them through my property!'"
A spokesperson for the Parks Bureau told me today that the Bureau of Development Services is currently researching the easement issue. Like I shared earlier this week, City documents show that the Racquet Club was once required to maintain a public easement for a trail; but Emmert says that requirement was on a land-use permit for an expansion of the club that never actually happened. Also, the City seems unwilling (in my opinion) to push this issue, given that this is only a convenient spur of the Springwater, and losing it wouldn't lead to an outright gap in connectivity. Also, it doesn't appear to me that Emmert will back down, and the last thing the City wants is to get mired down in an ugly land-use fight.
Parks says they'll put up signs in the area by next week telling path users about the closure.