Photo above: Current incompleted culvert over Jory creek and riparian area.

A preliminary review of scores of documents suggests that local blogger and political observer Brian Hines made both valid and incomplete assertions in a recent piece about issues involving a south Salem development published in Salem Weekly.

On February 1, the paper printed, “Public stuck with a $7.5 million development bill,” a story which generally blamed both the City of Salem and developer Larry Tokarski for decades of events that resulted in local home purchasers and homeowners being required by the City of Salem to help finance road developments and a bridge associated with the Creekside golf and housing development.

Following that story, the paper and the author received a letter from Mr. Tokarski’s attorney, James Vick. Briefly, Mr. Vick said Mr. Hines’s piece unfairly characterized the developer of the development solely as Mr. Tokarski’s and said that Hines did not place sufficient blame on the City of Salem for raising the cost of the bridge and road developments.

In the first question of who was the developer of the property, the bulk of the documented evidence we could find, beginning with a 1991 letter to the City of Salem from Mr. Tokarski through a 2016 LUBA (Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals) decision document (LUBA No 2016-025) through the transcripts of City Council meetings this spring, indicates that the primary, commonly-understood “developer” is indisputably Mr. Tokarski. This includes his 1991 relationship (as General Partner) with Hawaii Ventures Northwest when he first initiated discussion with the City about stages of development.

However, it appears that Mr. Hines failed to note that there were other significant partners and entities involved in the development over the years. These omissions made his characterization of Mr. Tokarski as acting nearly completely on his own, inaccurate.

As to the increase in costs of an extension of Lone Oak road and a bridge over Jory creek, that issue is complicated by the way the development proceeded – in more than 17 individual phases and over many years. Mr. Tokarski signed agreements that make him obliged to make these improvements beginning at least in the early 2000s. However, the City itself suggests that it is possible that the developer was not fully aware of federal, state and city permit requirements protecting riparian habitat which might mandate more expensive building methods (retaining walls and a bridge, rather than a long culvert with large fills) than perhaps he initially anticipated.

At the same time, The City also says environmental concerns might not have impacted bridge costs. Federal and state agencies have discretion in the environmental permitting process, and the City doesn’t yet know what culvert or bridge solutions they would approve.

Also, according to City Public Works staff, lack of specificity in its agreements with Creekside developers about the phasing process may have impacted the developer’s understanding of his obligations. Early documents suggest that the developer was required to complete the improvements after he’d built 350 homes, but the City says that its language may have lacked enough specificity. Had the construction of the road/bridge been part of a new development approved today, the City’s language would have been much more explicit about what infrastructure the developer was required to complete each step of the way – and the matter would at least have been debated by City and developer years ago.

In recent years, in order that Creekside Homeowners Association would drop an appeal, the City agreed to take on the cost of building of the bridge and Mr. Tokarski agreed to donate the right of way for Lone Oak road. The City attempted to help finance its share by requiring new homeowners in the vicinity to pay a fee, but that plan, first approved by City Council, was rescinded by them on February 12, largely because of the objections of citizens. The matter will be revisited by Council on March 26. Eventually, because the bridge is both needed and required for area development and access, it appears likely that the City will have to issue a bond.

In his Salem Weekly opinion, Mr. Hines repeatedly placed blame on the City for not holding the developer to its understanding of his obligations to build infrastructure prior to allowing continued development. Hines also blamed the City for who (the public) will likely shoulder the financial burden. He did not mention the developer’s possible misunderstanding, suggested to us by the City itself, of environmental permit requirements for construction in a riparian area.

Although Mr. Vick asserted to Salem Weekly that costs shot up because City staff chose at some point to require a more robust bridge or a bridge with a different design or function, this is something we haven’t seen documentation on.

There is still no agreed-on bridge plan and no means of funding for it.

What is undeniable from City Council testimony by citizens, from the frustration of local homeowners in the Creekside HOA and from the letter from James Vick is that nearly every actor in the development feels a sense of injustice about either how this matter is understood or how the costs have been assigned.

While saying that, as far as we can tell, Mr. Hines opinion is largely accurate, Salem Weekly acknowledges that this issue is more complex than the story we printed by him stated. It is also perhaps more nuanced than anyone lacking specialized knowledge or training could explain fully and fairly, especially in any way that is readable for the general public.

Salem Weekly remains open to further documentation on this matter that might be presented by any interested party.