SALEM — A nonprofit’s proposed expansion of its youth camps may be in jeopardy as a state lands commission considers new rules governing the project at the site of the former city of Rajneeshpuram.
Young Life, a nondenominational Christian group that already has two youth camps on the site, watched as the Legislature passed a law last year that was intended to allow the nonprofit to avoid a lengthy land use exception process and build another camp immediately.
But that wasn’t the end of the game.
The bill required a state agency to create rules that will govern all new youth camps on the low-quality, Eastern Oregon farmland. But the proposed rules, if finalized Friday, might either deter future camps and potentially millions of dollars’ worth of development, or lead to more laws specifically for Young Life after, critics say, the land commission undermined the law’s intent.
“I can absolutely guarantee it wasn’t the intent of the Oregon Legislature to pass a bill and create rules that would allow for no camp at all,” said Craig Kilpatrick, a land use consultant for Young Life. “We would not have made an application if the rules today were passed.”
The additional Young Life camps would mean development of as much as 40 acres of a property that is 100 square miles of arid and desolate land about 18 miles southeast of Antelope in Wasco County. The first development would occur as soon as a rule is made that allows Young Life to move forward, and another would come a decade or two later, Kilpatrick said. But he said the project won’t be a go unless the proposed rules are changed.
The commission for the Department of Land Conservation and Development, the agency tasked with creating the rules, will consider the draft proposed by its rulemaking committee this week in Eugene.
The draft rules would limit all new camps to 350 people, and up to 600 if the group sets aside more land, a number Kilpatrick said in Young Life’s case would include about one-third staff and two-thirds campers. The rules would also prevent Young Life from connecting to an existing sewer system and limit activities campers are allowed to do, he said.
That all adds up, Kilpatrick said, to a rule that would prevent Young Life from creating the additional camps.
“What is the point of adopting an administrative rule that nobody’s going to use?” Kilpatrick asked.
The rulemaking committee has tied the new rule for Eastern Oregon youth camps on farmland with poor soil to a rule that was created for camps in Oregon’s forests.
The Young Life site is the former city of Rajneeshpuram, a commune on the landscape that consisted of thousands of followers of a guru from India in a mad chapter of the area’s history.
The group invested millions of dollars in infrastructure for as many as 5,000 people who lived there nearly 30 years ago and built the commune for no wages.
When the group went into bankruptcy after attempted killings of politicians and lawsuits over its incorporation, Dennis Washington, a wealthy Montana-based philanthropist, acquired the property before giving it to Young Life.
Jon Jinings, with the Department of Land Conservation and Development, said there were many compromises made to get to the draft rules, which it recommends the full commission pass.
“We’ve of course listened very closely to them. You can appreciate that’s kind of the balancing that we do,” Jinings said. “It’s not just about one stakeholder. It’s about a variety of stakeholders.”
The interested groups include 1000 Friends of Oregon, a conservation group, Wasco County planners, tribal members and Young Life representatives.
Jinings said it’s difficult to satisfy everyone when creating rules for every future Eastern Oregon camp.
The nonprofit compromised with the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs on archaeological and burial concerns.
The rulemaking group made exceptions to a rule that would have prevented showers in the camp dormitories. That was put in the forest rule to prevent the camps from ever being converted to a resort. The proposed farmland rule would allow for one shower for every five beds in the camps’ dormitories.
“We’ve made many changes based on (Young Life’s) input,” Jinings said. “I think we really responded to what they’ve asked for in a way that continues to be acceptable and reasonable to the other folks at the table.”
The process, which comes after years of focus and litigation on the area, has the attention of six Central Oregon lawmakers who have made their distaste known.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, who has served on the Young Life committee in Prineville, promised legislation next session if the commission passes the draft rules as they stand.
“We have extremists who are using the land use system, which was designed to be a shield and turned it into a sword,” said McLane, a Powell Butte Republican who has long been critical of the state’s approach to land use regulation. “And they are waging war with the sword.”
Catherine Morrow, a commission member who was the liaison on the rulemaking committee, declined to discuss the outstanding issues ahead of Friday’s potential vote. Representatives of 1000 Friends of Oregon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposed rules.
The commission could also decide the rules aren’t ready and put off a vote until the rulemaking group has revised them.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,