Portland Parks & Recreation has resumed the public process for the River View Natural Area project. This is the project that has been mired in controversy since a surprise announcement on March 2nd that bicycling would be banned in the park until further notice.
In an email yesterday, the Parks bureau announced a Public Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting that will be held on April 8th and an open house event that will follow on May 4th. This would be the first PAC meeting since January of last year.
According to the PAC meeting agenda Parks Director Mike Abbaté will share introductory remarks which will be followed by a “natural resource presentation and discussion” by Parks Planner Emily Roth. There is an open public comment period at the end of the meeting.
“If we’re not allowed to talk about mountain biking, than why am I here?”
— Charlie Sponsel, Project Advisory Committee member
Given the extreme disappointment from many people about bicycling being excluded from the 146-acre parcel, this will likely be a heated meeting. Charlie Sponsel, the man who led an opposition rally last month and who told a national magazine earlier this week that Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz were “way out of line” in making their decision, is a member of the PAC.
Sponsel told us today that he and another mountain bike representative on the PAC, Brian Baumann of the Northwest Trail Alliance, are still debating exactly what posture they should take. “I’ve heard that the Technical Advisory Committee [a closed process running parallel to the public process] is not discussing biking at all,” he said, “So, if we’re not allowed to talk about mountain biking, than why am I here?”
The PAC’s mission is to develop a plan that will determine how the City of Portland should manage the parcel and how best to balance public access with ecological goals. From the outset of the planning process that started in 2013, Sponsel and other mountain bike advocates were led to believe by the Parks bureau that bike trails would be considered. Informal trails have existed in River View for several decades and it’s a valued riding area due to its close-in location.
Unfortunately for Sponsel and other bike advocates, Parks isn’t the only agency with a claim on this land. Of the parcel’s $11.25 million purchase price, the Parks bureau paid $2.5 million, Metro (who owns a conservation easement over the entire parcel) paid $2 million, and the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) paid $6 million to maintain the area as a watershed.
That BES investment used money from sewer and water ratepayers and triggered in 2011. The suit claimed the city should not have used sewer funds for park land. A judge ruled in the city’s favor in 2014. After first citing ecological concerns as the reason for excluding bicycles, Fritz and Fish now say their decision was based on fears they might get pulled back into the lawsuit.
For their part, Sponsel and Baumann were working in good faith in the process until March 2014. At that point the project came to a halt. Parks planned to host a PAC meeting in June 2014 and release a draft management plan to the public at an open house in July, but both of those meetings were cancelled with no explanation. Nothing was heard from the City about this project until the controversial memo from Commissioners Fritz and Fish came out on March 2nd.
In materials (PDF) released for next week’s meeting Parks refers to mountain biking as an “interim restricted” use which “will be considered through the City‐wide Off Road Cycling Plan.” That’s a reference to the $350,000 plan Commissioner Fritz insists must be completed before mountain bike access is formalized and sanctioned at River View and the city’s other parks and natural areas.
The meeting materials also show a draft trail that has a hiking trail around the outside edge of the parcel, keeping most of the park as an “interior preserve” with no public access. That draft map, and a stipulation in the “conservation actions” published today stating trails can only be located “within 200 feet from the outside edge of the property,” make it hard to foresee where and how bike trails would ever be allowed.
Further clouding discussions about bike access at River View is the notice of intent to appeal to the State Land-Use Board of Appeals filed by the Northwest Trial Alliance against the City of Portland on March 24th.
Details on next week’s PAC meeting and the open house are below:
River View Public Advisory Committee (PAC) Meeting:
Wednesday, April 8th, 5:30pm – 8:00pm
The Watershed Community Room (6388 SW Capitol Highway at Bertha)
Community Open House:
Monday, May 4th, 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Multnomah Arts Center (7688 SW Capitol Highway)
Stay tuned for more coverage.