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Unique Oregon Park Prepares to Say ‘Bye’ to Guests

November 20, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Myra Steinpreis had hoped to serve up good news along with her Thanksgiving turkey in the small but tidy motorhome that she and her husband have lived in at Reeder Beach RV Park near Portland, Ore., for five years.

She and dozens of other mostly older tenants spent the last 20 months wondering when they’d get kicked out of the Sauvie Island park they’ve made their permanent home, according to The Oregonian, Portland.

The pastoral campground on the banks of the Columbia River has for decades provided about 60 low-income residents with a clean, cheap and safe place to live in a county with a dearth of decent affordable housing. But county regulators have said it’s operating illegally and the long-term tenants must go.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, whose district includes Sauvie Island, has stepped in.

For now the Steinpreises and others are safe, but county regulators still plan to rid the site of its permanent residents and force the park to run as a temporary campground required by law.

Regulators have asked park owners Jim and Jan Reeder to submit a map of the lots and information on every tenant by December, including how long they’ve lived there, whether they have other housing options and what kind of hardship moving would cause.

The county will use that information to determine a timeline for moving out the residents, but neither county planners nor Kafoury can say if the moves will occur in months or years.

“As long as I am here, we are not going to be kicking people out of their homes,” Kafoury said. “Eventually they are all going to have to move. Whether that is 20 years from now, that is not yet determined.”

So residents say while they have a reprieve, it does little to alleviate their fear.

“We’re hearing that we can stay for now and that is very relieving,” said 72-year-old Steinpreis as she sat on her worn sofa hugging a scarlet pillow to her chest. “It’s been like this for almost two years and not knowing where we are going or when we are going is wearing on us.”

The quiet campground with pumpkins and haystacks heralding the fall sits on a small portion of a farm that’s been in the Reeder family since 1853.

Jim and Jan Reeder have run the RV park for 60 years — about the last 30 with permanent year-round residents — without running afoul of county land-use officials.

Then two years ago, they asked the county for a permit to expand, triggering a public hearing that alerted neighbors and brought out complaints about increased traffic and litter and impacts on wildlife.

The RV park has dozens of permanent dwellings per lot — instead of only one as required because Sauvie Island is outside the urban growth boundary. Further, county regulations say RV park tenants can stay only 30 days at a time.

The Reeders spent nearly two years battling the county, saying they should be grandfathered in because the park started before the county adopted land-use codes. They also argued that the county had inspected the land and granted permits several times before and never found a problem. But the Reeders lost the appeal this past summer, throwing residents with few options into turmoil.

The park’s rent is $390 a month, the setting pristine, and neighbors look out for each other so much so that no one locks their doors.

“I hope to draw my last breath here,” said Mark Fleming, a six-year resident who also works as a maintenance man on the farm. “Do they want to put us in some slum with no birds or trees or the river?”

Kafoury said the county is in a tough position between compassion and law. “We’re trying to balance upholding the law and assisting poor, elderly and disabled folks who need a place to live,” she said.

They’ve cut a deal. As long as the Reeders bring other out-of-code structures into compliance, the county won’t push too hard on the residential side. The county will try to move out those with other options first. Assistant County Attorney Jed R. Tomkins said the county isn’t required to adhere to any specific enforcement timeline.

“We’re not happy with what they are doing with us as a business,” Jan Reeder said. “But we are relieved they are allowing some leeway with the tenants.”

To comply, the RV park will eventually lose between a third to a half of its sites and can take tenants for just 30 days at a time. The Reeders said they’ll likely lose about 75% of their park income — the primary income for the farm — and have to lay off two or three of their seven employees.

Like with the Reeders, relief at the camp is tempered. “We’re younger, we’re going to be OK,” said 40-year-old Kathy Peppard, a six-year park resident who also works at the farm’s country store. “But to hear we might have to move and lose our jobs, I was panic-stricken.”

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