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The Great Destination Resort Land Rush 

Deschutes County already has far more destination resorts than any other county in Oregon. And according to calculations by Paul Dewey of Central Oregon LandWatch,

Deschutes County already has far more destination resorts than any other county in Oregon. And according to calculations by Paul Dewey of Central Oregon LandWatch, if all the destination resorts now on the drawing boards statewide were actually developed, the number of units at such resorts would triple.

Meanwhile the county is stuck in the deepest, darkest dungeon of the deepest, darkest economic depression to hit the US in 80 years. Resorts that by now were supposed to be covered with golf courses and multimillion-dollar custom homes remain covered with sagebrush.

So what, in light of this situation, does Deschutes County think we need? More destination resorts, of course.

The county is moving ahead with its remapping of lands eligible for destination resort development. Some acreage deemed unsuitable no doubt will be removed from the inventory. But other acreage deemed more suitable no doubt will be added.

Commissioners Tammy Baney and Dennis Luke argue it's smart to get the county's destination resort ducks in a row before developers start coming in demanding approval for individual projects and the county has to deal with them on a piecemeal basis. And there's a lot of sense to that argument.

Still, with the county already glutted with resorts and development at a standstill, we have to ask: What's the big hurry?

Back when they were first conceived, destination resorts probably were a good idea. The concept was to encourage more places like Sunriver and Black Butte Ranch - true resorts where families could come and enjoy a weekend or a week in the Central Oregon sun and, in the process, drop some dollars into the rural economy.

But over the decades the term "destination resort" has taken on a very different meaning. Nowadays it means places like Brasada Ranch and Thornburgh - high-end residential developments with lots of elaborate second and third homes and damn few (if any) tourists in sight. "Resorts" like this contribute little or nothing to the economy in terms of tourist bucks, but impose hefty costs in terms of traffic, aesthetic impacts and use of water and other natural resources.

Baney has talked about revising county rules to try to make sure future resorts are more like real resorts than spendy subdivisions. It seems to us that the current hiatus in resort development would be an ideal time to undertake that task. And when it's finished, the revised standards would give the commissioners a clearer picture of where new resorts should - and should not - go.

It's also a good opportunity to do a thorough, objective cost-benefit analysis of destination resorts - something Dewey has been advocating for years.

The county's unquestioned assumption has been that any destination resort is a good one. That kind of thinking is outdated and, ultimately, destroys the very qualities that give Central Oregon its visitor appeal. This is a perfect time for the county to call time out and take a close, honest look at where we are with destination resorts and where we want to go. In the meantime, we're giving any effort to add more lands to the local resort inventory the Boot.


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