Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let's Dig Our Way Out of This Hole

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 11:08 PM

The City of Bend is talking about creating a no-destination-resort buffer zone around the city, and the Central Oregon Association of Realtors doesn’t like that idea one bit.

Deschutes County is reviewing and revising its rules for where destination resorts can go, and city staff wants to prohibit them within five miles of the city’s Urban Growth Boundary. That looks like a reasonable – even generous – standard; under state law resorts have to be sited at least 24 miles outside of cities with populations of 100,000 or more. (Bend isn’t that big yet, but at 81,000 it’s getting close.)

But COAR doesn’t see it that way. In an e-mail Monday to the Bend city councilors and planning commissioners, Bill Robie, COAR’s government affairs director, said the buffer proposal “is misguided and counterproductive to restoring a healthy economy by attracting new businesses and creating jobs.”

“Resorts have made, and continue to make, substantial contributions to our region’s economy and are among the largest property tax payers in Deschutes County,” Robie wrote. “Whatever their imagined negative impacts, destination resorts are an overwhelming asset to our economy.”

(I love the way he slipped the word “imagined” in there. Destination resorts don’t have any actual negative impacts – only “imagined” ones.)

“The city staff’s fears of resort development are misplaced,” the e-mail continued. “Resorts are prohibited in Bend’s entire urban area and the county’s own criteria prohibit resorts on land designated as Urban Area Reserve. … Even county land that is resort eligible will not necessarily develop into a resort.”

Well, that’s good to know.

“COAR would prefer to see local government entities spend their time trying to remove obstacles to our economic growth rather than erect new ones,” Robie concluded. “With local unemployment over 15% and people losing their homes it’s hard to see how it is a worthwhile expenditure of city staff’s time and energy constructing new barriers to private sector investment.”

Every time I hear somebody prattling about what an economic boon destination resorts are, I come back to the same question: If destination resorts are such powerful engines of prosperity, why does Deschutes County – which has more of them by far than any other county in Oregon – consistently lag behind the state average in wage levels and ahead of the state in unemployment?

And isn’t it ironic that COAR is lamenting our 15% jobless rate when the reason our local economy is so prone to periodic collapse is its dependence on construction and tourism? Haven’t these people learned anything over the past five years about the need for a more diversified economy?

Those are rhetorical questions – no answers required.

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