Some residents of the Riverside Avenue neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Pendleton spoke out against a recent Planning Commission decision during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The action being appealed was a granted request from Mark Yeske to establish a minor partition on 1.85 acres of property that formerly was site of the Pendleton School District's Riverside Learning Center - an alternative school. The commission gave permission Aug. 21 for Yeske to split the property into three distinct parcels, with the possibility of nine in the future.
"This is not a subdivision," Yeske said, adding he doesn't necessarily intend to go to nine lots. "I want to split it into some presentable lots for someone to build a nice home."
Nearby resident Mary VanEtta, who joined neighbors in an official appeal to the decision, vented several frustrations to the council.
She said she and others used to use the abandoned school site as a community park for many years until the district sold it in 2003 - without their knowledge - to Yeske. Yeske, in turn, closed access to the property for liability purposes.
"People from the community came out and they had taekwondo, they had soccer, they had Little League games," VanEtta said of the former days. "It was fantastic."
Although a resident of the neighborhood supposedly had a handshake deal with a former district superintendent for future first rights to bidding on the property sale, that agreement wasn't honored when the district conducted the transaction with Yeske five years ago.
"We, as a group, would have purchased it," VanEtta said. "All we want to know is when are our children going to have a safe place to play?"
Now, she said, the nearest park is more than a mile away, across Highway 11 that has no safe pedestrian crossing.
Yeske reiterated the property never was a park, nor could he personally afford insurance to manage it as a park. He also said people at the Pendleton Parks Department didn't want to make another park in that area.
Many of the worries expressed, however, were not as specific to Yeske's plans, having more to do with the general condition of what they considered to be a neglected neighborhood involving multiple jurisdictions.
Although the Yeske property is within the urban growth boundary, it has not been annexed into the city. And despite such citizen comments as the need for Highway 11 crosswalks and speed limit signs on Northeast 35th Street, those roads are maintained by the state and county.
Becky Marks, a councilwoman-elect who will begin her term in January, advocated for the citizens' worries about the state of the Riverside neighborhood. She suggested the city reach out to the county, for example, to begin addressing road safety issues in the area.
"We have literally passed the buck ... as long as we can get away with it, and I don't think it's fair," Marks said. "We need to get to work down there and do something constructive."
The council tabled voting on the appeal, but likely will uphold the planning commission's decision at their next meeting. Yeske has agreed to join local improvement districts for infrastructure improvements, should other residents opt to create them in the future.