With approximately 75 residents on hand, the Lyle Community Council devoted most of its Monday evening meeting to discuss a proposed compromise regarding the future of Lyle Point.
The 35-acre property was purchased by Trust for Public Land in March 2000, and TPL wants to keep the land in an undeveloped state.
However, community members have expressed deep concern over the lack of land available for housing or business development in the Lyle urban growth area. The removal of Lyle Point from potential development is seen by many as possibly devastating for the community's future.
"If you don't think taking this land off the tax rolls has an effect, you'd better think again," said Bill Schmitt, president of Gorge Reality and a member of the Lyle School Board. "If there is no growth, it affects you. Every time property comes off the tax rolls, you pay more taxes."
In an effort to address some of these concerns, Chris Beck, TPL's project manager for the Lyle Point property, sent a letter to the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners that offered a partial solution.
At the meeting, held at the Lyle Lions Community Center, County Commissioner Joan Frey read the letter aloud for the group.
"To be clear, TPL still intends to keep Lyle Point in an undeveloped state," wrote Beck in an excerpt from the March 18 letter. "We continue to hope that the property can be conveyed to a responsible public land management agency such as the U.S. Forest Service or Washington State Parks, with a portion of the site set aside specifically for the needs of Lyle residents."
In his letter, Beck said the county had raised legitimate concerns. "We recognize that not developing Lyle Point removes some of the land base from the tax rolls without creating additional land for development. Moreover, we understand that there is some financial impact to the local community school district and other local districts due to the short-term loss of tax revenues. ... To address some of the county's concerns about the lack of developable land base ... TPL is willing to contribute $55,000 to the county, with the intention that these funds create an interest-bearing account managed by the county and dedicated to assisting the local districts described above ... TPL will also build, at our own expense, a playground on the property that we anticipate will be primarily used by county and town residents."
After reading the letter, Frey said she wanted to hear from the community as to whether the offer would be acceptable to citizens of Lyle.
Frey pointed out that Lyle is in a unique situation.
"In urban areas, they design greenways and parks because they're at a minimum. We're in a unique area, and what is at a minimum here is land for urban growth," Frey said. "Our need is for developable lands."
Janis Sauter, vice chair of Gorge Reality, agreed with Frey.
"If we could afford to lose our urban growth area, a park would be nice," Sauter said. "But we can't afford it. I hope the County Commissioners give the community the right to make the decision."
Frey noted, however, that TPL is not obligated to do anything with the land.
"What they do with their land is a right we all have. If they choose to not develop, that's their option," Frey said. "We can't force them to do anything."
Dave Elkins said the TPL offer was a positive development.
"Maybe here's the opportunity to recover some of our losses if we go to TPL with a counterproposal, and perhaps develop part of the land," Elkins said. "So we could recoup a good portion of what we may never recoup if we do nothing."
A woman who identified herself as Lisa said she believed TPL made a good faith offer.
"I urge you to keep communication open," she said. "Do all the math. This is an opportunity. The letter is not presented as a done deal, and compromise is called for. It's counteroffer time."
Others took a tougher stance.
"Keep in mind that Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Gorge, and the Forest Service are all in cahoots," said Willard Gaul. "They got Lyle Point through collusion and conflict of interest. If we let them do anything without fighting it would be a mistake. This is a big fight -- in fact, even war. I'd like you to keep that in mind."
Oren Johnson pointed out that the land at Lyle Point was not used as an Indian fishing site and historically was not pristine land.
"I grew up here and saw the sheep sheds and the fruit-packing warehouses and sawmills," Johnson said. "The perception by Greenpeace and the Audubon Society was that this was vacant, virgin land, and it was not that. I know for a fact no Indians were fishing at Lyle Point for the last 100 years."
The evening's most entertaining comment came from Lyle resident Royal Hovinghoff, who said he hoped the county would consider the TPL offer.
"I'd like to see the County Commissioners negotiate in good faith with our Palestinian neighbors," he said. "But take a hard-line stance about keeping land on the tax rolls. If you can negotiate a portion to be houses, that's fine with me, but get lots into private ownership. Either that, or get with the Yakama Nation and say, `come on down, let's build a casino.'"
Jim Rutledge, co-owner of the Lyle Hotel, said a portion of the site could be used to create a public tribal heritage center displaying tribal culture and arts, with another site being developed as a railroad museum.
"It would employ people, attract visitors, and bring people in," Rutledge said. "It's a compromise to meet TPL's needs and bring in tax revenue."
Frey recommended that those concerned about Lyle Point write their congressional delegation to make their views known.
"We need a full-court press of letters," Frey said.
Sauter stressed that the community needed room to grow.
"We need our urban growth area back," she said. "We don't care if it's on the Point. If they want the Point, give us some other land to develop."
Elkins said he hoped the County Commissioners would negotiate to find a fair solution to all parties involved.
"The arm's-length approach doesn't work. The only way is to sit down and talk," Elkins said.
A spokesperson for TPL said on Tuesday that TPL representatives had not been invited to the meeting in Lyle, nor formally notified by the county the meeting would take place.