Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

The Deschutes County Commission appears likely to approve a residential development near a former mining pit that’s been turned into a private ski lake, with some conditions.

Commissioners on Wednesday discussed a proposal to build a cluster of high-end homes along two artificial lakes on a former mining pit northwest of Bend, but after several hours of debate, they still wanted more information about noise and who can use the lake.

They’ll revisit the issue July 18, and they could approve it with conditions such as limiting what hours the lake can be used for water-skiing or restricting how loud boat motors used on the lake can get.

“These are starting to fit into a category of yes with conditions,” Commission Chairman Tony DeBone said.

The commission was about a third of the way through the 33 questions commissioners were asked to answer to decide if the development should be allowed.

Tanager and KC Development Group LLC previously built two lakes: an 8-acre semicircle meant for swimming and fishing and a femur-shaped pond to the south for water-skiing. The Tumalo Irrigation District has also used the ponds as reservoirs to help manage water flow in Tumalo Creek.

But because of various lawsuits, land use applications and appeals, the lakes haven’t been used for water-skiing or as irrigation reservoirs for several years.

“This is working through the process of the cure,” DeBone said.

Several questions to the commission centered on whether the lakes, particularly the ski lake, and the proposed homes fit in with the surrounding neighborhood and natural areas. A handful of other houses are near the proposed development in the rural county, and one couple that lives nearby has led most of the opposition to the project.

During a hearing on the proposal earlier this year, an attorney for Thomas and Dorbina Bishop said the county should require developers to drain the artificial lakes and allow land to be reclaimed by native plants and animals. The Bishops maintain that native plants and animals had started to reappear before the new lakes were built, while owners of Tanager and KC Development Group contend that the land was still mostly barren and scarred from surface mining.

“Getting something to grow on a reclaimed surface mining site is difficult,” Commissioner Tammy Baney said.

The developers said they would replant the areas around the lake, which Commissioner Phil Henderson supported.

“I hope it doesn’t look like a ski lake or a pond in the middle of a desert with nothing growing alongside it because it doesn’t have to look that way,” he said.

Central Oregon LandWatch, the Bend-based environmental watchdog group that also opposed the Tanager development, primarily focused on effects of the development on mule deer because the property is in winter deer range. The developers plan to keep the homes fairly close together and have about 84 acres of trail-free open space elsewhere on the property.

Opponents also questioned whether deer and other animals could fall in to the lakes because the southern end of the ski lake has steep slopes. Henderson pointed out that deer deal with steep slopes or cliffs in naturally occurring areas as well as man-made ones.

“They’ll find the shallow parts to go in and they probably won’t go in over the cliff,” he said.

Commissioners still wanted to learn more about noise impacts on surrounding properties because both the developers and nearby homeowners have shared conflicting reports on how noisy the ski lake could become. While developers have said they’ll limit the types of boats allowed on the lake to reduce noise, the county could impose a decibel limit or similar restriction.

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com