Given the dismal housing market, it could be years before the next destination resort breaks ground in Central Oregon. However, Deschutes County commissioners have set the stage for the next wave of construction if it ever arrives.
Meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday, commissioners voted to pare down the total number of acres available to prospective resort developers, trimming the county's official resort map from 112,000 acres to a little more than 20,000 acres.
The original map, which dates back more than two decades, determines which lands are eligible for resort development and which are off-limits. Commissioners had sought to adopt a map that more closely reflected which lands were actually viable for development.
However, the process also allowed owners of previously ineligible lands to apply for inclusion in the updated map. It was that stipulation that drew the ire of land use advocates who argued that the county didn't need to add more resort lands given the industry's recent dismal performance and concerns about how resorts impact wildlife, water supplies and traffic patterns, among other things.
In the end, commissioners opted to include two new parcels in the scaled down map, an 895-acre piece near Sunriver and a 400-acre state-owned parcel near Cline Buttes that is leased to the owners of the beleaguered Thornburgh Resort.
Central Oregon LandWatch founder and executive director Paul Dewey said last week that his organization had not yet decided whether to appeal the new map.
Commissioner Tammy Baney who voted for the map said she understands critics concerns, but said it is not the job of commissioners to decide whether it makes financial sense for investors to bet on the resort market recovery. Baney also said she isn't sure that it's necessary to legislate resort policy at this point when the economy seems to be sorting things out.
"It's a balance at this point. The natural market is going to weigh in more heavily than any policy I can create."