"City, Juniper developers reconcile," said the headline at the top of the front page of Bend's daily newspaper last Thursday. The headline was off the mark. Instead of a reconciliation, the City of Bend and its Juniper Ridge master developer have agreed on a divorce settlement.
Under the terms of the settlement (which, despite a lot of harsh words back and forth in recent months, appears to have been more or less amicable) Ray Kuratek and Jeff Holzman, doing business as Juniper Ridge Partners LLC, basically are getting $2.56 million to go away. In return the city gets custody of the baby - the Juniper Ridge master plan created by the prestigious landscape architecture firm of Cooper Robertson.
Sometimes a divorce comes as a surprise to friends and family, but everybody saw this one coming. Juniper Ridge Partners and the city have been wrangling for months over the terms of a final development agreement and getting nowhere. As soon as the city brought in its favorite troubleshooter, Ron Garzini, to take over negotiations with Kuratek and Holzman in September, it was unmistakably clear that the city wanted out.
The relationship didn't stand much chance of surviving anyway once the people Kuratek likes to call "the good old boys" - the Chamber of Commerce crowd, the local development and real estate establishment - began trying to break it up, which they've been doing since the spring of 2006.
Some of the establishment's criticisms - the lack of transparency in the negotiations between the city and Juniper Ridge Partners, some questionably generous terms in the Memo of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the developer - were legitimate. Others, such as the naked appeals to xenophobia, or more specifically Californiphobia - painting Holzman and Kuratek as "out-of-town" sharpies who were taking the city to the cleaners - were despicable.
Whatever, it worked. The good old boys have gotten their way; Holzman and Kuratek are out.
Did the city do the right thing in getting a divorce? Yes. At this point it had no choice. There was so much hostility in the local business community toward Kuratek and Holzman, and between them and the city, that there was no way they could have carried out their role as master developer effectively.
We also don't think the $2.56 million payoff is excessive. The MOU stipulated that Kuratek and Holzman were to be reimbursed up to $2.5 million for their expenses if the final development deal wasn't reached. The city also needs to have a master plan to proceed with development of Juniper Ridge, and everybody seems to agree that the Cooper Robertson plan is an excellent one. And, as Mayor Bruce Abernethy admitted to us with somewhat surprising candor, the city wants to fend off the possibility of another costly lawsuit should Kuratek and Holzman decide to claim the city showed bad faith.
Abernethy said Kuratek and Holzman will stay on as consultants for a couple of months, getting the master plan in final form to present to the city council and Deschutes County Commission. Meanwhile the city will be trying to form a consortium of property owners, similar to the old Westside Consortium, to pay for upwards of $40 million worth of road improvements that the Oregon Department of Transportation says are needed before Juniper Ridge development can go forward.
But what happens once the divorce is final? That's what we're worried about.
The good old boys - let's call them GOBs for short - would like to see Juniper Ridge proceed with no master developer. They'd like to see the city sell the 1,500-acre property off in chunks of 100, 200 or 300 acres to individual developers. That would be good for the GOBs - they'd get a chance to make piles of money. But what's good for them is not necessarily what's good for Juniper Ridge, or for Bend.
The city is getting a fine master plan for Juniper Ridge, but a master plan is worthless unless there's somebody who has the authority, the specialized expertise - and, above all, the personal commitment - to make it happen. Holzman and Kuratek might not have been a good choice as master developer - in fact, they probably weren't - but Juniper Ridge needs a master developer. Otherwise what was meant to be a showcase at the northern gateway of Bend may end up being a patchy collection of drab "industrial parks" filled with concrete tilt-ups.
With Kuratek and Holzman and all their baggage out of the way, the city can move forward boldly and seek a new master developer to partner with it in bringing the vision of Juniper Ridge to full fruition. Or it can choose to follow the well-trodden path of conventional, piecemeal development - in which case we'll be looking back 10 or 20 years from now and wistfully muttering, "We coulda been a contender."