As Bend's development races forward, preserving open space in the heart of downtown is crucial, for once that space is gone, it won't be coming back. The swift pace of development just reached Troy Field, a little parcel of land, less than one acre, located next to Old St. Francis School. Putting this property on the chopping block for private development is striking a nerve in the community.
"Not Troy Field!" At a City Council hearing last Thursday, community members young and old took turns at the microphone. Each was timed and given just three minutes to provide public testimony, yet people waited hours for a turn to speak.
The Bend - La Pine School District, which owns the property, considers Troy Field to be surplus and wants to sell it. It comes across as rather mercenary, but faced with a budget shortfall, the school board claims it has the fiduciary duty to sell the property.
The estimated value of Troy Field is approximately $2 million. When the school district began shopping the parcel around to nonprofits, the city and the parks department, a counter offer came in below $1 million and was rejected. Soon enough, last June, an offer of $1.9 million materialized from the private sector with a Portland developer's proposal to build tourist accommodations. The offer was accepted.
A quick change of the zoning and this sale would be fait accompli; that is, a done deal, especially with city planners supporting the zoning change. However, an outside hearing officer, Ken Helm, a lawyer from Beaverton, noted the unique nature of Troy Field. He recommended City Council deny the zoning change, based on the school district not proving a public benefit for the change, nor a change in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, he left the decision in the hands of City Council.
Troy Field, for more than 100 years, has been an open space at the heart of downtown Bend. The first Railroad Day celebration was held there in 1911, 25 years before Old St. Francis School was built and before many of the houses in the historic neighborhood were constructed. Troy Field was intentionally built around as a necessary open space even then. Going further back in time, Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress had the foresight to set aside land in each township for public schools and government with the Land Ordinance of 1785.
The City of Bend must not forfeit what little open space is left under its purview in downtown. As the price of land grows ever steeper, being priced out of the downtown market is not just likely, it may have already happened. Wise men and women with the power to do so make decisions for the people that are far-sighted and beneficial for generations to come. Mayor Clinton and City Council members will soon vote on the fate of Troy Field. Given the chance to make the honorable decision, they are trusted to do so.