“Save the golf course!” Save River’s Edge!” read lawn signs that have proliferated across west Bend.
The signs are a component of community organizing being done by residents of the River’s Edge in an effort to halt the conversion of the public 18-hole River’s Edge Golf Course into housing.
Pahlisch Homes announced plans to purchase the golf course from CMW Development owner Wayne Purcell earlier this year. If the sale goes through, Pahlisch Homes intends to convert half of the golf course into nearly 400 homes, many of which would be middle-income housing.
Now, several homeowners who recently moved to River’s Edge are suing Pahlisch Homes and CMW Development.
The homeowners complaint?
When they purchased their homes near the golf course over the past 16 months, the homes were advertised as having golf course views and as being near a golf course.
That advertising was akin to a legally binding promise — or, “equitable servitude” — according to lead plaintiff Jeffrey Kramer, 70, a retired lawyer of nearly 40 years and former Malibu, California, mayor who retired to River’s Edge in April, 2020.
According to Kramer, equitable servitude is a “fairness doctrine” in the context of real property. What it means, in short, is that if promises are made and people are made to rely on those promises, then the people who were given those promises have a right to enforce them, Kramer said.
“We moved into our homes on the promise of Pahlisch that we would be given golf course views and surrounded by a golf course,” Kramer said. “Then Pahlisch announced that they would plow up the golf course. That’s not what we were promised.”
The plaintiff’s complaint is strengthened, Kramer said, by another local case. In Mountain High Homeowners Association v. Ward, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Deschutes County homeowners association suing the owner of Old Back Nine Golf Course over similar issues.
Kramer said the argument in the River’s Edge case is even more compelling than it was in Mountain High due to thorough advertising.
“There were flyers advertising our homes would have golf course views,” he said. “It was described as a secluded community. The website had a picture of a golf course. The streets themselves are named after golf themes.
“Everything about it screamed golf.”
The plaintiffs are being represented by Martin Hansen, a Bend attorney who was involved in the Mountain High case.
If the plaintiffs win, Kramer said that the golf course would legally need to be maintained in perpetuity, no matter who owns it in the future.
“If we five plaintiffs win, everybody benefits because the golf course remains for everyone,” he said.
The case is in arbitration, and Kramer expects an arbitration hearing by year’s end and a decision soon after.
“I feel very confident about the case,” he said. “Our facts are compelling. We’re not asking for anything we weren’t sold on when buying our houses. I have yet to hear from Pahlisch or Purcell any dissents. We still don’t know what their arguments are, and frankly, I don’t think they could make a compelling one.”
Jessica Seidel, senior director of marketing for Pahlisch Homes, declined to comment on litigation, citing company policy.
In addition to benefiting River’s Edge homeowners, saving the golf course benefits all Bend residents because less housing equals less traffic in the area, more wildlife and more scenic views, plaintiffs argue.
Supporters of the River’s Edge development plan point to Bend’s housing crisis as a viable reason for converting the golf course into housing. The median price of a single-family home in Bend in July was $650,000, up $10,000 from June’s median price, and housing has become nearly impossible for some to find.
The River’s Edge plan calls for at least 50% of the proposed 372 homes to be middle-income, which includes a range of housing at different price points in an effort to accommodate a variety of housing needs.
“(Pahlisch) remains very committed to developing River’s Edge,” said Seidel. “We’re going to do it thoughtfully with input from the community. We feel this development is an important part of helping Bend address its housing crisis. And we know that every unit of housing we can add in the community helps create more attainable housing for everyone.
“We’re taking seriously our responsibility to be the next generation of stewards of this unique part of Bend,” Seidel continued. “We know that’s why Wayne Purcell personally came to us to ensure any future development was done right and by a builder with deep roots in the Bend community.”
Seidel said Pahlisch hosted a productive meeting with River’s Edge community members in June, and that another one is planned for the fall.
“One of the things we heard clearly is the community’s understanding of the importance of more missing middle housing in Bend, which is a key part of our vision for this project,” Seidel said.
Additionally, the meetings are meant to show the community that they’re part of the planning process, Seidel said.
Plaintiff and River’s Edge resident Chris Walton, however, doesn’t feel included.
Walton, 51, who leads an accounting group for a large lumber company, moved to River’s Edge with his wife in April 2020.
The Waltons used to live in Portland and vacationed in Bend for some 20 years for its outdoor recreation.
After seeing an ad for a River’s Edge home that emphasized its proximity to the golf course, the Waltons decided to move.
Shortly after settling in, however, they learned about the sale between Pahlisch and Purcell.
“The day that they announced the sale, it was tragic,” Walton said. “There were lots of tears. It was traumatic for the community. We lost a lot of trust for Pahlisch and Purcell.”
Walton said he wrote a heartfelt letter to Pahlisch Homes but never received a response.
River’s Edge residents turned to litigation and community organizing, Walton said, with Kramer spearheading litigation and Walton community organizing.
“We’ve been canvassing door to door, sending emails, educating people about what’s going to happen,” Walton said. “It’s a public golf course. It’s been around for many years. It’s an establishment in Bend. People care deeply about it.”
Walton said that organizing has become his second job.
“This isn’t what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted to get here and sit on the back patio, drink a beer, hit a few balls and just enjoy life. The house was advertised for its patio and golf course view. I bought the house so I could do just that: sit on the patio and watch the golf course.”