GRANTS PASS – The Grants Pass City Council voted unanimously at their Dec. 4 meeting to direct city staff to negotiate exclusively with TMB Racing for the sale of the city’s River Road Reserve Property, 227 acres of land zoned for Exclusive Farm Use that was acquired in 2006. TMB has expressed interest in purchasing the property to build a year-round equine training facility. Councilors expressed their intent to use proceeds from the proposed sale to the benefit of city residents and were encouraged by the potential economic development the equine facility will represent.
“I am, and I believe everyone on the Council should be proud of what we did. My decision to go into negotiation to sell the property was weighted from the perspective on economic stimulation for our community,” said Councilor Clint Scherf.
Scherf forwarded the motion, which was seconded by Council President Tyler Flaming, after a significant amount of public comment was received on the issue, pushing the meeting late into the evening. There were 19 proponents for the sale of the property and 21 who spoke in opposition.
“I appreciate one thousand percent all of the community outreach to us,” said Scherf.
Those comments were echoed by several councilors who applauded the residents speaking on both sides of the issue for engaging in a civil process of deliberation on a topic that has inspired a great deal of participation from the public.
“Everyone was extremely respectful and very civil,” said Councilor Joel King.
“I’m very proud of this community and the way the process of participation was conducted,” said Flaming.
Flaming said his decision to vote in favor of selling the land was based on his view of the land as a resource. He questioned how residents would view a reversed situation.
“Imagine the response from the community we would receive if we were contemplating spending this kind of money to buy this land right now,” said Flaming. “It makes far better sense to use that money for the good of the community in other ways.”
Councilor Dennis Roler agreed.
“There’s very few people getting any benefit out of that land that’s out there right now. This after 13 years of owning it,” said Roler.
“To me, (residents) will get a lot more benefit if we fixed up Caveman Pool or fixed up some of the parks,” he said.
The city has been faced with $700,000 in deferred park maintenance, and recent reports suggest that Caveman pool needs approximately $2 million in repairs.
“I think the best thing to do at this time is to sell that property and use the money other places,” Roler said.
Councilor Valerie Lovelace expressed concerns that members of the public had been misinformed about the history of the property, the full extent of the zoning restrictions on the property’s use, and the expensive government hurdles standing in the way of attempting to develop the land as a park.
Lovelace delivered a brief history of proposals for the land’s use dating back to the 2006 purchase of the property, and improper placement in the city’s Master Parks Plan by a previous city council despite state and county advisement against the move.
“They were told not to put this property in the Park Plan because it is going to be way too difficult to make it into a park, but they chose to put in afterward,” said Lovelace.
Councilors Scherf, King, and Flaming complimented Lovelace on providing the report for clarification and making the argument for selling the land to promote economic development.
“We should be promoting economic strength and encouraging economic growth within our community,” said Scherf.
The TMB Racing plan to build an equine training facility is expected to create “significant” economic impact on Grants Pass and Josephine County, said Randy Evers, Executive Director of the Oregon Horseman’s Benevolent & Protective Association. Evers referenced a 2012 report issued by Eco Northwest finding that professional horse racing represented more than $200 million per year to the state of Oregon, creating 777 full-time jobs and 3,000 part-time jobs.
“We believe a significant amount of that $200 million will come to Grants Pass and Josephine County,” said Evers.
Travis Boersma, owner of TMB Racing, said his hope was to create something that would help ease the “economic disparity” in Grants Pass.
“I think we can do something pretty magical out there. I think it can give people jobs. I think we can make an economic injection that’s substantial,” said Boersma.
City staff will now move forward with negotiations with Boersma for the terms of sale of the property. Council deliberations on the terms of the sale will occur in executive session. Before the property is sold, and public hearing will be noticed in accordance with state laws, and any final council action will occur at a public meeting.