Site stalemate: Property sale deadlocked

<p>A proposed design of a Clatsop-Nehalem interpretive center shows the elements planned for the former Cannon Beach Elementary School property. Ecola Creek is to the north, and Beaver Street is to the south.</p>

The Cannon Beach City Council and the Seaside School Board have reached a stalemate in a real estate deal over the former Cannon Beach School property.

The council submitted an offer to the school board March 18 to purchase the property at a price that has not been publicly disclosed. After discussing the offer in a closed executive session, the board voted unanimously in an open session to reject the offer.

A counter offer apparently has not been made by the school board.

Board Chairman Mark Truax indicated that the council’s offer was too low and that the school board has a fiduciary responsibility to district taxpayers to obtain the highest return on the property.

“I’m not giving away a $1.2 million property,” Truax said.

A recent independent appraisal, paid for jointly by the city of Cannon Beach and the school district, placed the property’s value at $1.2 million. The site is a little less than 1 acre and is south of Ecola Creek in a tsunami zone. It is zoned institutional, which allows parks and cultural and educational centers.

However, the appraisal was based on the “highest and best use” for the property, which would be multifamily housing.

A day after the school board’s rejection, the Cannon Beach City Council met in its own executive session. In an open meeting following the session, the council said it would not submit another offer.

“Let’s let them stew in their own juices,” said Mayor Mike Morgan.

The city had hoped to reach a deal with the school board before the April 4 deadline to submit a grant to the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.

The grant would have helped to purchase the property, but an accompanying letter from a willing seller was required. The city also would have been required to provide matching funds totaling 20 percent of the grant.

City officials want to demolish the buildings — except the gymnasium — and develop the school site into a cultural and recreation center, commemorating the Clatsop-Nehalem village that used to be there.

After the school board closed Cannon Beach Elementary School last June, the property was declared “surplus.”

The northern half of the property returned to the control of Clatsop County; the county owns the property but had allowed the district to operate a school there. The county recently turned the property — which is where the playground used to be — over to the city.

The school district, however, owns the land covered by the office, classrooms, gym and portable buildings.

A planning group consisting of city staff members, Morgan, representatives from the

Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, Ecola Watershed Council, North Coast Land Conservancy and the city’s parks and community services committee have been meeting for several weeks to determine how the land should be developed. A preliminary design, drawn by a landscape architect consultant, shows a Clatsop-Nehalem cultural and recreational center where the gymnasium is, an indigenous interpretive and activity area, organic garden, amphitheater, gravel path along the creek, canoe landing and grassy area to play games.

Morgan called the school board’s rejection “very unfortunate.”

“I think it’s going to be a very long time before they (the school board) get a better offer,” he said.

Dick Basch, vice chairman of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, who attended the council meeting, took the school board’s decision in stride.

“It will always be a place – whether it’s the whole thing or a piece of it – where learning will take place,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity presented to the tribal community and the Cannon Beach community to exchange ideas.

There’s no place on the coast like it. It was a rest stop for people going north and south, and it still is. That’s what Cannon Beach is. There will still be an exchange of information and knowledge and a place for people to sit and soak in energy,” Basch said.

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