Editor’s Note: Sandy Speasl, a year-round resident of Hyatt Lake, Ore., and a member of Southern Oregon Citizens for Responsible Land Use Planning, wrote this opinion piece that appeared in the Medford, Ore., Mail Tribune. It pertains to a government official’s decision that could force the closing of a park model resort in that southern Oregon community.
We wish to point out several inaccuracies in the Oct. 26 Mail Tribune article concerning Hyatt Lake Resort and to highlight some information about this decision and final order handed down by the independent hearings officer, Donald Rubenstein.
That decision was made after a three-month review of more than 1,000 pages of testimony and information compiled by all the parties in the appeal. Rubenstein’s 42-page decision is available to the public at Jackson County Development Services, as is the county planning staff report.
Last May, neighbors were advised of a zoning decision concerning Hyatt Lake. Because we disagreed with the county’s decision to permit development in a Forest Resource Zone, we filed an appeal. As citizens who live in the area, we were also alarmed when neighbors reported sewage flowing from Bob McNeely’s property into the lake.
McNeely contends he is operating an RV resort. We contend he has built a planned unit development (subdivision) on land that is zoned Forest Resource and has been historically permitted as a seasonal campground only. Rubenstein agrees with our assessment.
We are extremely concerned about potential fire and propane explosions. Each cabin that McNeely has built has an attached 120-gallon propane tank, with no setbacks as required for a house. The cabins are as close together as 7 feet, and surrounded by extensive wooden decks and wooden skirting.
A fire expert who testified at the hearing noted, “This density exceeds the setbacks that are required even under a municipal code where the inhabitants have fire hydrants and city fire departments that respond in under five minutes. This resort has no means of suppression for a full structure fire, let alone multiple structures that would surely follow.”
Rubenstein determined there was “no doubt that the risk of fire from the park model development significantly increases the risk of fire both within and beyond the resort.”
In the article, McNeely claims he is entitled to develop 65 RV spaces and has septic licenses from Jackson County for 35 sites. The county found some evidence to support full service to 21 sites, but found no evidence of approved land-use permits or sanitary sewer permits since 1977.
“There were four or five cabins without kitchens that were rented in some winters but there was no overnight winter recreational use of the resort beyond that,” Rubenstein’s decision said.
In fact, many of the alterations for which McNeely sought permits had already been put in place, apparently violating his federal lease with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as well as county regulations. He also set up an office and administrative building at the resort without permits. It was red-tagged and ordered decommissioned. McNeely is apparently ignoring the county’s order, as this office continues to be used daily.
In the article, McNeely states, “there is much misinformation, particularly about the cabins, which are clearly designated and designed as recreational vehicles.” We would agree with him as to the misinformation.
According to the Oregon Structural Code, a “park trailer” is an RV “built on a single chassis, mounted on wheels … with a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet when in the set-up mode.” The hearings officer found that many of these “park models” set up at Hyatt Lake Resort are actually “two park models attached to one another to form structures that are wider than 30 feet and far in excess of the 400-square-foot limit that governs park model structures. Additionally, many of them have second stories and dormers and lofts, and all of the units have hot tubs. They are advertised as capable of sleeping between two and six people. Evidence establishes that units are used to sleep as many as eight.”
McNeely clearly does not see these units as RVs either, as he openly advertises them as “cabins” and “destination homes.” We encourage people to drive to Hyatt Lake to judge for themselves whether the units resemble RVs or permanent houses.
McNeely blames the county and his neighbors for his financial woes. We contend that Campers Cove LLC did not follow proper procedures.
Admittedly, the county made mistakes in allowing this development to occur in the first place. However, through public input and testimony — a right we may all exercise because we do not live in a communist country — the hearings officer determined what was necessary to correct these errors. It’s now the public’s job to support the county in seeing that the final decision and order are carried out if the state Land Use Board of Appeals determines it should be.
Millions of dollars invested in the Hyatt Lake Resort in southern Oregon are on the line as park model cabin owners fear the fallout from a recent ruling by a Jackson County hearings officer.
At the same time, the owner of the resort, Bob McNeely, filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 30 for Nor’wester Industries Inc. of Washington, the company that built the cabins, which McNeely describes as recreational vehicles, according to the Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.
On Oct. 13, McNeely filed an appeal with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) over the Jackson County hearings officer’s decision that finds the county planning department erred when it allowed 22 units on the property in the first place.
Owners of the cabins, who have agreements to rent them out for $150 or more a night, now are worried about their $150,000 to $200,000 investment, and the fear has spread to nearby Campers Cove, where another 25 units have been installed. Most of the owners live in Jackson County.
“I think everybody is pretty stressed out and concerned,” said Robin Schooler, who owns one of the small cabins at the Hyatt Lake Resort.
The Bonanza resident said her dismay about the situation is directed more at surrounding Greensprings property owners who appealed Jackson County’s approval of a limited expansion of the resort.
Hearings officer Donald Rubenstein concluded that small cabins referred to by the resort owner as recreational vehicles are, in fact, dwellings that potentially pose a fire danger for the resort and the surrounding forest.
He said the resort 20 miles east of Ashland resembles a high-density residential development with some units only 7 feet apart.
Rubenstein concluded county planners erred in allowing 22 of the cabins at the resort. He rejected a request to add an additional 13 spaces.
Schooler said her husband, Michael, helped Bob McNeely’s brother, Don, log some of the trees on the property.
“The whole situation for us is kind of sad,” she said. “My husband and Don McNeely are best friends. We’re not letting any of this come between us.”
Still, Schooler is worried about receiving a percentage of the rent from her cottages that goes back to August, particularly with property taxes now owed. “That’s pretty upsetting,” she said.
Despite the lack of rent collected from tenants who have stayed in her cabin, Schooler said she and her husband continue to make the payments for the park model and lease of the property from Campers Cove.
Schooler said McNeely told cabin owners that filing an appeal with LUBA would buy an extra 12 to 14 months before any action could be taken to remove the park models.
“We don’t want to lose our cabin,” she said. “We don’t want to lose the resort.”
McNeely said he’s ready to fight any attempts to shut him down.
“I will go to my grave resolving it,” he said.
He said millions of dollars now are tied up in the project, his line of credit has been canceled and his company, Nor’wester, has been shut down and its 105 employees have been laid off. He said he’s also laid off more than 30 employees at the resort. So far, he said he has spent almost $150,000 in legal fees.
As a result of the publicity, McNeely said he has received 57 cancellations at his resort, but disputed claims he is behind in payments to cabin owners.
He blames both the Greensprings neighbors and the county, which gave him the permits, for the situation that threatens his livelihood.
With the economy in such a slump, he said he doesn’t understand why his efforts to clean up the resort and make things better in Jackson County have been battered by local government.
“Honest to God, I feel I’m in a communist country,” he said.
If the state does rule against him, he said it would lead to closing other facilities in Oregon that have similar types of recreational vehicles. He cited, in particular, Howard Prairie and Lake of the Woods.
In addition, McNeely said cabin owners likely will sue him, and he will sue the county if the hearings officer’s decision is upheld.
McNeely said the records on his property seem clear. He said he is entitled to 65 recreational vehicle spaces, but only wanted to use 35.
“I didn’t build any sites there,” he said. “They were already there.”
He said he received septic licenses from the Jackson County Health Department for 35 sites.
In the hearings officer’s decision, McNeely said he sees the potential to try to shut down nearby Campers Cove.
He said there is a lot of misinformation, particularly about the cabins, which he said are clearly designated and designed as recreational vehicles.
While McNeely struggles to keep his resort going and fend off the county, he said he has noticed local government agencies continue to improve parks and have even proposed an aquatic park in Medford.
“The county owns all of the recreation in the county,” he said. “It’s a real crying shame what our country has come to.”
Sandy Speasl, a member of the neighborhood group Southern Oregon Citizens for Responsible Land Use Planning, said she understands why the cabin owners blame her group. “They have to blame somebody,” she said.
But, she said, other landowners have been forced to adhere strictly to county regulations, so she said all her group is asking is the resort adhere to the same rules.
“The whole reason we did this is so the county would give everybody equitable treatment, and so that they would obey the laws that are set up,” she said.
Speasl said the hearings officer’s decision is appropriate, even if it means the cabins would have to be removed.
“I think the hearings officer was pretty clear on that,” she said. “They are not allowed.”
Talent resident Felicia Hazel said she and her husband are very concerned about the investment they’ve made at Hyatt Lake Resort.
“We got into it as a rental, and that rental would pay for itself, and it hasn’t even come close to that,” she said. “As far as what happens next, I’m not sure.”
Hazel said she hasn’t yet received the rental income from August, though she continues to make lease payments on the land.
She said most of the value of buying into the resort is in placing the cabins on the wooded property a short distance from the lake and just off Hyatt Prairie Road.
“The value is gone if we have to remove the park model and the hot tub,” she said.
Hazel said she looked at Whaleshead Beach Resort, also owned by McNeely, before making the purchase, and she and her husband were impressed.
Because of the uncertainty, Hazel said, “We need to take a look at what our options are to protect ourselves.”
Phoenix resident Fred Riffle owns a cabin at Campers Cove, and he’s worried the land-use problems from Hyatt Resort could become a problem for him.
“It’s just going to be a complete loss of investment if the county and whoever has their way,” he said.
Riffle, 68, said he was counting on the income from the rental of his cabin to help him with his retirement.
He expects to call McNeely to ask him about the back rent in the near future, but wants to give McNeely ample time to resolve the situation.
“We’re not going to bug him,” he said. “He needs all the time he can get to defend himself.”