McKenzie River Reflections - Make the McKenzie Connection!

“Sparks City” unlikely to replace Blue River


BR mapBLUE RIVER: Over a hundred years ago Samuel Sparks dreamed about creating a city. After moving upriver from Cedar Flat in 1895 he acquired a quarter section of land. Fueled by the boom associated with the discovery of gold nearby, he built a cabin and a two-story log house, plus a sawmill, store, hotel and livery stable. By 1911, he and his sons, Dexter and Felix, had surveyed and mapped out a new town tentatively to be called “Sparks City.” But on July 7th of that year, Sparks died, along with his dream.

Today each of the McKenzie River’s nine unincorporated communities have a development density that can’t exceed two-acres. A recently completed study, the “Blue River Downtown Redevelopment & Wastewater Roadmap” could point to ways that limit might change. The study lays out steps for the creation of a community waste-water system and the development of a “downtown district” in Blue River.

Three  possibilities  were  looked at: incorporating a new city, transferring development rights, or changing the area’s legal designation  from a rural to an “urban” unincorporated community.”

Sparks might have liked the first choice but it appears unlikely.  It’s been a decade since a city was incorporated in Oregon - Damascus in 2004 and La Pine in 2006. Both are considerably larger with 10,592 residents in the first and 1,773 in the later, compared to an estimated population of 280 for Blue River.

The second option in the study would potentially change zoning to allow developers to increase density in some areas. In exchange they’d be required to place a conservation easement on other land that’s been designated for preservation.

Under the third scenario Blue River would have to grow - from today’s 131 homes to 150 - to be redesignated as an “urban unincorporated community.” That designation also requires a public water system, a mixture of zoning and a  community sewage system. Both the first and last items are the main focus of the study.

The Lane County Land Man-agement Division has said that building a wastewater treatment facility inside the existing community boundary would be the best approach. The Seneca Lumber parcel, at the eastern end of the old veneer mill site, is one of the potential locations.

Building a sewage system might work to attract a developer willing to build 19 more homes. According to the report, “Supporters of this effort will also need to address the fact that Blue River does not currently meet the 150 minimum required permanent dwelling units. This can begin with a community conversation on how to raise the number of permanent dwelling units. If necessary, project supporters should work with Lane County Land Management Division and local stakeholders to explore gaining additional input from state agencies and lawmakers.”

 On July 5th the Lane County Planning Commission recom-mended that the board of com-missioners approve 100 hours of staff time to assist and consult on land use issues related to Blue River wastewater project. In addition, the study noted that, “Broad support from the local community is vital and the time and energy of a local champion is all but required. It is possible that the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Program could help coordinate the efforts for keeping the community involved and the project moving forward. Successful achievement of this effort will likely take many years.”

Blue River could decide to create a new sewer district or modify the water district to take on an expanded role but that too would require public involvement. A petition needs to be signed either by 100 voters or by 15 land owners or owners of 10% of the acreage (whichever is greater).

The effort could continue to involve the University of Oregon’s  RARE Program. But, as the report notes, “Successful achievement of this effort will likely take many years.“

To read the “Blue River Downtown Redevelopment & Wastewater Roadmap” report, go to:

Image: The boundaries of the Blue River Water District could be used to define a new sewage district or be the area covered a  combination of both districts.


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