Only a few seats were empty in the Bend City Council chambers on Dec. 3. A month earlier, residents concerned about the future of Troy Field had saved the date for a public hearing to consider whether the City should remove a public facilities designation to make way for the downtown property's sale to an out-of-town developer.
As the crowd waited for the hearing to begin, City Planning Manager Colin Stephens announced that the hearings officer mixed up the dates and would not be attending the meeting. Because Hearings Office Ken Helm lives in Portland, he couldn't just hop in his car and head over. The City rescheduled the hearing for 9:30 am on Dec. 15.
"I called the public hearings officer and he was very apologetic, but he got his dates confused, he thought this hearing was tomorrow," Stephens said. "Unfortunately, I think the reason that that occurred is because we have two hearings with him scheduled here tomorrow on different matters."
A month earlier on Nov. 5, the City's Community Development Department issued a public hearing notice allowing for public testimony for the request by the Bend-La Pine School district to change Troy Field to a commercial limited property, which would remove the public facilities designation. The zoning change is one of the hurdles remaining before the school district can complete its transaction with Brownstone Development Inc.—a business name registered to a Portland-based lawyer George J Gregores—the company that offered $1.9 million to the school district in June.
Senior Planner Amy Barry gave her email address to the crowd and said she would accept written comments until Dec. 15. Community members began to ask about the next hearing and people expressed concern that the new hearing wouldn't receive as much publicity as the one that was canceled.
"We'll try to get the word out as much as possible about the new hearing date and time," Stephens said.
Suzie Newcome, owner of Namaspa Yoga and Massage, was at the hearing and said she was surprised the hearings officer didn't have to be local to Bend.
"The fact that this hearings officer got the hearings date mixed up seems very odd, and it's being rescheduled now for a date that's not traditionally a hearings date, so it's on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday at 9:30," she said. "And [Stephens] said they're not going to put marketing against it—they're only going to email the people who showed up today. So it seems very suspicious to me."
The mix-up fueled suspicions about backroom deals, leading some to wonder about the impact of their public comments.
"Something goes on behind the scenes that we don't know about," said hearing attendee Santiago Casanueva. "Which basically tells us at some level, there's already been a decision made."
Another Bend community member who is concerned about the sale of the property is Julia Ohlson. She explains that the property has been a green space since the city was founded.
"Unfortunately, how Troy Field is described now is reduced to three words: vacant undeveloped property, and that's it," she said. "Because it was never reserved as historic, it was never reserved as open space, so it has nothing going for it."
Ohlson believes it's been challenging to get the word out about Troy Field because people either aren't familiar with its name or don't know that the buyer plans to develop condos on the property.
"A lot of people have no idea how historic it is. Ice skating goes all the way back to 1926," she said. "Thousands of people have used this field, and I think a lot of people are unaware of what is going on."
Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore said the City originally offered $850,000. The school district came back with a counter offer of $1.7 million. Skidmore says the City made a second offer of $1.1 million and the school district rejected it.
"We accepted the highest offer," explained Brad Henry, chief operations and financial officer for the school district. Henry said Brownstone Development Inc. has also offered to reimburse the school district for its environmental testing fees.
Bend City Council will make the final decision to approve or reject the public facilities designation sometime after the Dec. 15 public hearing and a report from the public hearings officer.
Ohlson adds that a change.org petition started several months ago now has more than 1,100 signatures.
"Troy field has always been a place to celebrate, a place for the community, and it's just a playing field and that's what it's always been and it should remain that," she said. "Sometimes you don't realize how important something is until it's taken away from you."
As of Thursday, Dec. 10, the city has changed the public hearing for a third time.
Troy Field Public Hearing
Deschutes Services Building, 1300 NW Wall Street
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 4:00 PM in the Barnes and Sawyer Meeting Rooms