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The first formal designs for the Thornburgh Resort near Redmond went into the planning pipeline in 2005. The opposition and the legal challenges started almost immediately and have never stopped.
Developer Kameron Delashmutt, whose family has owned the land since the 1950s, is blunt about the challenges of the last 17 years. During a recent extensive tour of the property, he put it this way.
“We never would have embarked on this if we knew the hassle we’d go through.”
The Thornburgh site is a spectacular piece of the High Desert: 1,900 acres of sagebrush and juniper draped over the slopes of the 20 million-year-old Cline Buttes.
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It’s an ancient landscape and a modern battleground.
“It’s the most litigious land use project that I’m aware of in Central Oregon and one of the most litigious in the state’s history,” said Deschutes County Community Development Director Peter Gutowski.
It is basically a two-person war — with various other parties lining up on both sides — over land and water.
A war between developer Delashmutt and a neighbor to the south of the Thornburgh property named Annunziata “Nunzie” Gould. She owns about 50 acres of land south of the development and has led this fight from the beginning.
“The issue has been about protecting fish and wildlife as a result of this mega-resort ” Gould said during testimony at a recent county hearing.
The non-profit Central Oregon Landwatch has backed Gould’s efforts. Thornburgh opponents turn out by the hundreds to comment and submit testimony at every every opportunity.
Most current objections focus on Thornburgh’s water rights and a proposal by the resort to cut water use to mitigate impacts on fish and wildlife. Opponents call it a substantial change that should force developers to start over at the beginning with a new master plan.
The two sides agree on little.
Delashmutt says he plans to build the most environmentally sensitive resort in the West.
“Our water mitigation plan here we think it benefits fishery habitat we think it benefits the rivers” he said. “And our goal is to blend everything back into what it looked originally as much as we can as fast as we can.”
Gould and her supporters just don’t buy it, commenting on the new water plans.
“It’s a strategy that the applicant has used with the notion of ‘Trust us. Trust us we’ll do it. Trust us the next process we’ll do it, trust us, blah blah blah,'” she said.
Gutowski notes the many hearings, rulings, appeals and reviews at the county level? They just get the legal process started.
“Then through the land use board of appeals, then the court of appeals and in a few cases the Oregon Supreme Court, it’s been appealed over 50 times,” said Gutowski.
And he points out that Thornburgh is currently taking shape.
“The developer has received local land use approval for a tentative subdivision platte, overnight lodging units, recreational amenities and infrastructure for its first phase. And those decisions, most if not all, have been acknowledged by the courts, they’re no longer subject to further appeal,” he said.
On a property tour, Delashmutt looks ahead and says likes what he sees: Roads being built, utility infrastructure going in, an 1,800-foot-long lake dug and nearly ready for filling — the first golf course shaped, graded and prepped for planting.
He also reports the website getting 95,000 hits in just a few months at the end of last year and hundreds of people showing serious interest in buying property.
“We’re in it now. We got a string of victories behind us and we’re close to coming across the finish line,” Delashmutt said.
Delashmutt says at this point, despite the constant public opposition and the certainty of future court challenges there is “not a chance” he will stop building.
“If I was going to do that, I would have done it in 2010,” he said.
His neighbor and protagonist, Nunzie Gould declined to comment directly on whether there was anything that would convince her to back off in her campaign against the development. She tells Central Oregon Daily news this isn’t about her, we’re all in this together. She doesn’t believe county code is being adhered to and she is exercising her right to comment publicly and participate in Oregon’s land-use approval process, and will continue to do that.
One thing both parties do seem to agree on: They will see each other in court.