Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, has had a change of heart.
A work group he organized, which could have paved the way to expand Aspen Lakes Golf Course near Sisters into a destination resort, is taking a different approach.
“I support the Cyrus family, and I support every other constituent attempting to do whatever they want within the law,” he said.
“But, I felt like maybe we were overstepping and local governments don’t like the Legislature to overstep and they don’t want their representative to lead the charge in sidestepping local planning and whatnot.”
The work group will still push to list eligible areas for “transfer development opportunity” funding and will include Jefferson and Deschutes counties in that listing. But there will be no mention of the Cyrus family property. Huffman said he hopes the legislative concept will also include language to extend the deadline for the development opportunities so they don’t expire in 2015.
In the six years Huffman has served as a lawmaker, the Cyrus family has lobbied to turn its property into a destination resort.
“Ever since I’ve been in the Legislature, Matt (Cyrus) has had a bill or a concept or has been trying to do some kind of development on the property,” he said.
If Huffman is successful at getting Deschutes and Jefferson counties added to the list of counties eligible to receive TDO funding, the Cyrus family may finally see Aspen Lakes expand with the help of developer Shane Lundgren. The Cyrus property is one of several Lundgren is considering for development of an eco-resort, which he describes as a low-impact recreational community and retreat.
Lundgren had planned to build The Metolian and the Ponderosa Land and Cattle Co. in the Metolius River watershed but the Oregon Legislature in 2009 deemed the area too environmentally sensitive for development. Because Lundgren was blocked from developing the resorts, the Legislature passed a bill allowing his group to build elsewhere. Lundgren said if Deschutes County is deemed eligible for TDO funds, he is interested in developing his resort on the Cyrus property.
“The Cyrus property sounds like it would be a great fit for our concept because Sisters needs the overnight units, and they have the outdoor and the mountain biking aspects,” Lundgren said. “One reason the idea came up is that all the amenities — roads, power, water rights — are all already there.”
Lundgren said he’s looked in other parts of Oregon but believes Central Oregon would be the best bet.
“Deschutes County is really, from many standpoints, the most viable,” he said. “The population is here and it’s financeable. We have three or so property owners in Deschutes County who are interested.”
Matt Cyrus also said he’s interested in seeing if a partnership between his family and Lundgren is viable.
“The first hurdle to cross is whether or not Deschutes County qualifies as a recipient, but with the property we have we believe it would be a nice match,” he said. “From the discussions we’ve had his eco-resort concept might fit nicely with our property.”
Prior to Huffman’s commitment to drafting a bill, the Cyrus family worked with Rep. Judy Stiegler, D-Bend, before she lost her bid for reelection in 2010.
During the 2011 session, Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, sponsored the “Cyrus Heritage Farm development area” legislation. It would have allowed the Cyrus family to build up to 495 single-family homes or other dwellings, along with recreational facilities and 100 RV resort spaces.
At the time, Whisnant said he agreed to sponsor the bill because Matt Cyrus was a friend and constituent. But he wasn’t a fan of the idea of “carve-out” legislation, which only benefits one family.
More recently, during the regular 2013 legislative session, Huffman picked up the torch and sponsored the “Cyrus Bill.” It would have allowed the family to build restaurants, recreational facilities, overnight lodging and motorhome sites on 640 acres of the family’s property.
With the most recent incarnation, the family would have had to sell or donate part of its property to a conservation easement.
Huffman is still a proponent of helping the Cyruses develop their property if possible.
“I don’t understand why it makes a difference; people keep saying, ‘It’s all for one family,’” Huffman said. “What’s the difference if it’s all for one family, if it’s all for one corporation.”
In the end, he said, if it helps the local economy or one family, it’s a win.
“I haven’t received a contribution from the Cyruses, and I don’t plan on getting one. I don’t do it for that; I roll up my sleeves and try to help people,” he said. “Land-use laws ... were created for a local process and a legislative process and to allow certain exemptions.”
And, Huffman said, just like every session there is a Cyrus bill, nearly every session there is a carve-out bill.
After fiery debate in the 2011 session, lawmakers approved a measure, House Bill 3465, that allowed a 130,000-acre ranch in Eastern Oregon to build up to 575 overnight accommodations. The debate followed similar lines, some arguing its passage would create jobs and others saying lawmakers shouldn’t be passing bills intended to help one particular family. The governor ultimately signed the bill.
If you go
What: Next work group meeting discussing possible development of destination resorts
Where: Madras City Hall
When: 1:30 p.m. Nov. 18