Once upon a time a developer had a bright idea. "Let's build a high-end, gated golf community out among the junipers and jackrabbits in the high desert," he said.
"How can we do that?" his partner asked dubiously. "Oregon's land use laws won't let us put almost 400 homes way outside of any urban area."
"No problem," the first partner replied. "We'll call it a 'destination resort.'"
"But won't we have to build hotels and rental condos for the tourists to stay in?" his partner asked.
"Don't sweat it," the first guy reassured him. "The county won't enforce the law. And even if they wanted to, the law doesn't have any teeth."
"Brilliant!" the other guy said. "What should we name it?"
"How about 'Pronghorn'?" the first guy said.
State and county law says a destination resort must have at least half as many overnight units as it has permanent residences. At build-out Pronghorn will have 384 homes, which means the law requires 192 lodging units.
The Pronghorn master plan approved six years ago talked about building a 75- to 100-room luxury hotel and required the "resort" to have 150 overnight lodging units by the end of 2007. Ground has yet to be broken on the hotel, and the only overnight accommodations now available are 48 condo units.
Last week the Pronghorn developers - for the third time - asked the county commissioners for more time to comply with the law. The commissioners complied, giving them another five years to hit the target. Commissioners Tammy Melton and Dennis Luke went along reluctantly, but Mike Daly went along eagerly - in fact, he didn't want to set any deadline. "I think what we're doing is allowing the developer of a very beautiful development to have a little breathing room," he said.
Sorry, Mike, but beauty is not an excuse for ignoring the law.
In fairness to the commissioners, state law doesn't give them much of a "hammer" (as Luke put it) to use against Pronghorn. The developers put up a bond to insure completion of the hotel and the county could take it and build the hotel itself, but the county doesn't want to get into the hotel business.
The law needs to be changed to give counties a bigger hammer. But for now the existing law is what the county has to work with, and small though the hammer is, it should be ready to use it. If it doesn't, state and county land use regulations will become a bad joke.
From their performance so far, we strongly suspect the Pronghorn developers will be back in five years asking for yet another delay. We hope the commissioners - whoever they may be by then - will have the guts to turn them down. Meanwhile, for caving in this time the present commissioners get THE BOOT.