Oregon Master Plan does not envision industry to the east

Kelly J. Kaczala

        A former Oregon City Councilman who was on a committee to update the 2025 Master Plan years ago said he never envisioned an industrial park in the eastern part of the city.
        A task force appointed by former Mayor Marge Brown oversaw Oregon’s planning process. There was representation from the Planning Commission, elected and school officials, and residents of various neighborhoods. Over 15 monthly meetings were held throughout development of the plan. The meetings offered progress updates and provided a forum for discussing general and key issues. The meetings were open to the public.
        Former Councilman Bill Myers was on the committee.
        “As I remember being on that citizens committee for almost two years of my life, along with many other residents in this town that spent countless hours discussing how we laid out the future development of Oregon - and I know I’m getting older and I don’t remember everything exactly as I used to - but I can swear we never talked about an industrial park in the northeast corner of Oregon,” said Myers at a council meeting on June 27. “That was never considered. We discussed the waterfront, we discussed Dustin Road, we discussed where agriculture should be protected east of Stadium Road. There were lots of areas that were discussed about where things were going to go,” said Myers.
        The city has been caught up in a fierce debate with several property owners on the east side of Oregon who were approached by Mayor Mike Seferian earlier this summer to see if they would be interested in selling their land for an electric battery plant in a proposed 400-acre industrial park. The area of interest is bounded by Bury, N. Curtice and Brown roads, and Navarre Avenue. 
        Some opponents packed council chambers on June 14 demanding to know why the city was not transparent about the proposed industrial park in an environmentally sensitive area that includes old growth forests, wetlands, and eagles’ nests.
        The electric battery plant, which wanted to buy property as soon as possible, has since moved on after Seferian could not persuade enough property owners to sell. Still, Seferian has made it clear he has not dropped plans to develop an industrial park there. He has said that the city expects to lose between $3 million-$4 million in revenue from its two refineries in the near future and must find other sources to cover the shortfall.
        The update of the Master Plan, which provides community decision makers with a tool to help guide decisions about community growth and development, was originally updated for 2020, but was later changed by Brown to 2025, according to Myers.
        “Sounds to me like the first intention of 2020 was correct because here we are in 2021, and apparently, it’s outdated. We can say it’s just busy things and we make people feel good by participating in that. That was not the sentiment by the citizens who participated in that and who thought they were being pacified. I believe we spent well over $100,000 on that document. That’s not as much money today as it was back then. It’s still a lot of money.”
        He said Councilman James Seaman, who is still on council, was also involved in the 2025 Master Plan update.
        “You were there,” he said to Seaman. “I would suggest you revisit that document before you are going to make massive changes in the makeup of the City of Oregon.
        Seaman said the Master Plan is not “cast in stone.”
        “I really enjoyed working with you,” Seaman said to Myers. “You did a lot of good work on that work. But one thing about the Master Plan, and we said this several times, “It is not an absolute Bible.”
        “It does tell us something – you’re right. But it’s not cast in stone.”
        Seaman also said the COVID-19 pandemic “cut the city down financially,” prompting a search for new sources of revenue.
        “It’s hurt the city significantly,” said Seaman.
        “We’re not talking about putting in an apartment complex,” said Myers. “You’re talking about a major change in the makeup of the city. You ought to get the pulse of the whole community before you make a decision like this.”
        “We totally intended to,” said Seferian. “We were getting calls all the time. There are people who are against it, and many people who are in favor of it, or understand it. If we do not protect our finances in the city, and wait until the midnight hour, it would be way too late.”
Update due
        “I don’t think it’s only about wetlands, but it’s also about changing the very fabric of the community,” former City Councilwoman Sandy Bihn said to The Press last week. Bihn also had worked on the Master Plan.
        “Nobody told us this was going to happen,” she said about developing an industrial park on the east side of Oregon. “A lot of us don’t want industrial on the east and west ends of the city. That’s really the issue. We don’t want to be another Gary, Indiana. The Master Plan is supposed to be about predictability and accountability. We have neither.”
        She agreed with Myers that the Master Plan should be updated again.
        “It’s old. If they want to update it, then do it. Have the argument in the plan so people would know,” said Bihn, a long-time environmental activist who is currently executive director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper.
        The Master Plan addresses many economic development issues. Yet there is mention in the document of “preserving environmental quality,” as well:
        “This Plan recommends the continuance of policies that preserve and protect the natural environment, and that maximizes the recreational value of natural areas for all citizens, through limiting development to non-environmentally sensitive areas.”


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