Driving up 30th, you may have noticed a massive gash in the forest next to Lane Community College. The clearcut adjacent to LCC may soon be home to McMansions, thanks to a few well-known land profiteers who operate in the area: the McDougal brothers. But LandWatch Lane County has filed an appeal to fight the planned development there.
High school students at the Lane Community College Early College and Career Opportunities (ECCO) program protested the clearcut near their school during class on Friday, Sept. 15. Several dozen students walked out of their classroom, accompanied by an instructor, to check out the clearcut nearby.
ECCO LCC instructor Steve Connelly says, “That day the students organized themselves to go see the clearcut.” Connelly came along for the ride.
The clearcut spans over 130 acres adjacent to LCC, despite Oregon Department of Forestry rules limiting clearcuts under the same ownership to 120 acres.
The forested area changed ownership in May to three different companies owned by Norman and Melvin McDougal: Leelynn Inc, Wiley Mt. Inc, and McDougal Brothers Inc. The McDougals are a pair of well-known land developers with a spotty reputation thanks projects such as the mining of scenic Parvin Butte, a landfill that kept catching fire, and an attempt to get a water right on the McKenzie River that was ruled water speculation.
“We came back to school this year and there’s this huge frickin’ gash above the school that’s set up to have a bunch of 4,000- or 5,000-square-foot houses on,” Connelly says of the clearcut near LCC.
KC Westphal, a 17-year-old ECCO student, says she’s frustrated to see the forest coming down to make way for large houses “because we only have 2 percent of our forests left in Oregon.”
Her classmate Paisley Eidemiller, 16, says they decided to check out the clearcut after hearing the construction noises and seeing the gaps in the forest. “We were walking across the tree graveyard, as I like to call it,” Eidemiller says. “It hurts to feel like that’s gone, and that it’s no longer going to be a part of that community, and when we look up there instead we’ll see people looking down on us.”
Lauri Segel-Vaccher at LandWatch Lane County says her organization is already tracking the McDougals’ plans for that land. The land is zoned F2, which is forested rural land. According to Segel-Vaccher, F2 zoning generally requires that parcels are over 80 acres, and each parcel is only permitted one “forest template dwelling.”
But an odd loophole in county code, she says, allows parcels that are already under 80 acres to undergo property line adjustment. She says this is the McDougals’ plan — to divide up the larger plots into pseudo-subdivisions for large, mansion-style houses, but with far fewer regulations than a subdivision would have within the Eugene urban growth boundary (UGB).
“I’ve been asking for code amendments to address this,” she adds.
The developers would sell the parcels for a tidy profit after getting approval for each plot to have a dwelling and a well, she says, adding that the McDougals have done this before across the county. “The approvals go with the property not with the owner,” Segel-Vaccher says, meaning the new owners of the parcels won’t have to do any paperwork to get approval for wells or housing. She says the McDougals “turn forestland into home sites.”
She says this is a major environmental concern because those parcels may not have enough water to sustain six different wells and the needs of six different households. None of this requires testing by the county, thanks to the F2 zoning. “The planning commission has the belief, buyer beware. That is their attitude when it comes to water,” Segel-Vaccher says of Lane County.
Since the land is outside the UGB, the new developments won’t be hooked up to municipal water or sewer. This means there will also be a septic tank attached to each house. “If there weren’t so many of them in such close proximity it wouldn’t be a big deal,” she says, but septic tanks fill up and leak over time, and “people don’t necessarily repair or replace them the minute they start leaking.”
The high school students at ECCO say they plan to protest the clearcut in the future, and they may soon have an opportunity. Segel-Vaccher says that her organization has already sprung into action. “The organization I work with, LandWatch Lane County, has filed an appeal of a proposal they made to the county. It was also appealed by a neighbor.”
She adds, “What we’re appealing is the county’s approval of these lots being lawfully created.”
EW reached out to the McDougals for comment, but didn’t receive a response before press time.
Those interested in supporting LandWatch Lane County’s appeal can attend a hearing scheduled for 9:30 am Thursday, Oct. 5, at the Lane County Customer Service Center located on North Delta Highway.