Crook’s largest destination resort hits speed bump

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: March 31. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The largest destination resort proposed for Crook County so far has hit a snag, with the Crook County Planning Commission indefinitely postponing discussion on the plans.

Hidden Canyon, a RMG Developments project, filed an application last year to build a destination resort with 2,450 houses and 1,225 overnight units. The resort would cover more than 3,250 acres in Powell Butte.

The size of the development is one of the main issues holding up approval right now, Crook County Planning Director Bill Zelenka said. Hidden Canyon is significantly larger than the two resorts in the county that have already been approved – 2,100-acre Remington Ranch and 1,900-acre Brasada Ranch. The resort also covers a significant area of general deer winter range, a problem that was not involved with the first two resorts.

“Hidden Canyon has got a few more issues, and it’s probably being looked at a little closer, too, because of the size and the numbers,” Zelenka said.

He added that access to the resort would run through an area controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which means that the developer will have to work out agreements with that agency about traffic impacts on the area’s wildlife and off-highway vehicle trails.

“BLM hasn’t said specifically what all the details are, but just that there are things that they have to do to review, and the reason it takes probably a little bit longer is when you’re dealing with federal agencies, they don’t move quite as quickly as local governments do,” he said.

In addition, more than 10 percent, or 450 acres, of Hidden Canyon’s land lies in general deer winter range, said Brian Ferry, district wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Prineville. Ferry said his department has been meeting with Hidden Canyon representatives recently to try to find solutions to potential impacts on wildlife.

“We’ve been working with the resort to kind of identify what those impacts would be and the how do you avoid them – which would be ODFW’s preference – and if you can’t, how do you mitigate for them,” Ferry said.

He added that some golden eagle nests along the resort’s northern boundary are also being taken into account.

Ferry said that the Fish and Wildlife Department has been focusing on wildlife damage – animals’ effects on the resort’s buildings and landscaping. He said that mitigation efforts by the resort could include limiting land use in certain areas.

Remington Ranch, which the planning commission gave initial approval to in November, also had to negotiate access through BLM lands and work around an eagle’s nest, but it does not lie in deer winter range, Zelenka said. The entrances to Brasada Ranch are off of county roads.

Brian Bergler, Hidden Canyon’s vice president for corporate communications, said that developers are working on the “final details” of agreements with the federal and state agencies. Bend-based developer Dennis Pahlisch owns a majority stake in RMG Developments, the company behind the resort.

“It’s just moving along,” Bergler said. “We’re at that point where we’re just starting to get down to the final components.”

The third public hearing for Hidden Canyon was on Feb. 28, and the planning commission decided then to postpone further hearings and a decision until the resort could work out agreements with BLM and Fish and Wildlife. Zelenka said that the earliest date for the next public hearing would be in early May.

Zelenka, Bergler and Ferry all said they are optimistic that solutions will be found for Hidden Canyon’s obstacles. But Zelenka added that as Crook County’s 38,000-acre destination resort overlay zone continues to fill up, developers may face similar problems with access issues.

“As we get more and more, I suppose scrutiny is going to get tighter,” he said. He added that he expects another resort application to be filed soon, but would not identify the potential developer.

Ferry said that, despite the size of the resort zone, county planners in general avoided sensitive wildlife sites when they mapped the resort area.

“They made, I think, a very good-faith effort to try to zone and designate the area to avoid potential impacts to winter range. They tried to avoid impact to sensitive bird sites, and I think, by and large, they’ve done so,” he said. “That relieves me somewhat about what’s going to be happening with future destination resorts.”

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