Eastern Oregon petroleum purveyor Devin Oil Company is apparently attempting to block Love's Travel Stops from developing a full-service travel center near Boardman.
Love's signed a contract with the city of Boardman last October in which it agreed to purchase between 30 and 50 acres of land east of Tower Road and south of Interstate 84, provided it secures preliminary site approvals.
The travel center would sell gasoline and diesel, plus house a convenience store and at least one fast food franchise, according to Love's spokesman Frank Ille.
Ille said Love's chose the Boardman site because of its visibility and abundant truck and car traffic. Elsewhere in the Columbia Gorge, he said, it's more difficult for motorists to spot travel stops.
"Coming (east) out of the gorge, this site is extremely visible, so that was why it was attractive to us," he said.
A real estate manager for Love's, Kym Van Dyke, has said the company would initially invest $5 million-$7 million in the project. The Boardman center would be Love's third in Oregon. A Love's Travel Stop in Ontario has been open for less than a year.
Since the company signed the contract with Boardman, it has worked on planning the center and also gathering the needed permits.
It hit a snag on April 28, the day the Morrow County Planning Commission was to decide whether to allow the Love's land to be partitioned from the city-owned acreage, a necessary step because the parcel must be re-zoned in order to allow a travel stop.
Shortly before the meeting, an attorney for Devin Oil, Michael Connors, approached the commission with a letter that argued the land partition should be denied or at least postponed.
"The applicant failed to adequately address several important partition criteria set forth in Morrow County Subdivision Ordinance," the letter stated.
Among other complaints, the letter stated that Love's had failed to provide enough detail about its proposed center, such as water sources and sewage disposal. Love's also neglected to demonstrate that it had "guaranteed access" to Tower Road, and it had not adequately addressed adverse impacts to the adjoining land and public facilities, the letter stated.
Morrow County Planning Director Carla McLane said the commission decided to give Love's some time in which to answer the letter's assertions.
On May 19, both Love's and Devin Oil submitted fresh evidence for the commission. Love's answered every one of Devin Oil's arguments - for example, it stated that Morrow County ordinance does not require that a site plan be submitted as a part of the partition approval. Nevertheless, it attached a detailed map and plan of the proposed center.
It also stated that its water and wastewater plans were "more than adequate and conversations with DEQ and the Department of Water Resources have supported the preliminary engineering report."
Love's letter stated that access to Tower Road was an implied right to whomever bought the land.
McLane said the question of access could be perceived as problematic, because there are overlapping easements involved. However, she said, "Other than Devin Oil, no one is arguing access. If there's a problem, it would impact all the other property owners on the other side of Tower Road."
McLane said Devin Oil is asserting that, because the previous land sale contract, in which the state of Oregon sold the land to the city, did not grant the city specific access to the easement, the city has no right selling that access to Love's Travel Stops.
"(Love's) position is, the state would not have sold the city the property without access to that easement," McLane said. "And we concurred."
At the May 19 meeting, the planning commission decided to grant Love's request, with the added caveat that Love's must obtain septic system approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Devin Oil had until June 3 to appeal the decision; on Tuesday, it filed another letter with the planning commission.
Love's still had not proven that the land was intended for a travel stop, it said, and it still had not provided enough information.
Despite Love's detailed map of the center, the letter stated, "without at least a conceptual plan to show the layout and plans for access, water, waste disposal ... the applicant cannot demonstrate the proposed parcel is suited to accommodate the proposed development."
The letter also called Love's plans for water sources "highly questionable and problematic."
And Devin Oil was unhappy with Love's plans for dealing with stormwater.
"The applicant provided no information regarding the amount of expected stormwater runoff, or the size and type of the stormwater facilities contemplated," the letter stated. "The applicant's bare statement that 'adequate area exists to dispose of stormwater' is grossly insufficient."
McLane said that Devin Oil was demanding a level of detail unusual for a land partition decision in Morrow County. She said the county may be a bit different from other parts of the state in that regard.
"We have a threshold of approval criteria that works for Morrow County," she said. "We feel comfortable with the level of detail that (Love's) has provided."
McLane said she could not remember Devin Oil showing an interest in land partition decisions prior to the Love's application. Devin Oil owns nine service stations across Umatilla, Morrow and Gilliam counties.
The East Oregonian repeatedly attempted to contact Devin Oil's owners and their attorney for comment; as of press time, they had not responded.
McLane said if the planning commission decides to uphold its earlier decision, Devin Oil could appeal to the county court, and then to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
Devin Oil also could involve itself in Love's request for a zone change, which could further stall the project.
Unfortunately for Love's, time is one thing it could run short of. Its contract with the city of Boardman stipulates that it has a year and a half in which to acquire the needed permits and zone change.
The city held two public meetings about the land sale prior to entering into the agreement with Love's Travel Stops, according to Boardman City Manager Karen Pettigrew, but no one showed up.
Ille said Love's has encountered opposition before, some of it "obviously adversarial" like Devin Oil's.
"But I think that as long as we do our due diligence accurately and completely, we'll be fine," he said.
Ille said Love's hopes to start construction on the project in the spring of 2010.