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The Friends of Witham Oaks have gained an extra six weeks of breathing room in their bid to purchase the 90-acre parcel on the west side of Corvallis.

The Witham Oaks property was to have been sold in a foreclosure auction this Friday at the Benton County Courthouse, but the sale has been pushed back to March 15.

"We were surprised" by the postponement, said Linda Tracy, the group's treasurer. "But that gives us more time to raise money."

The volunteer organization has been working to purchase the wooded hillside parcel north of Harrison Boulevard and donate it to the city as open space. A 221-unit subdivision had been planned for the site, but developer Legend Homes abandoned that project when it filed for protection from its creditors in bankruptcy court.

No minimum bid has been set for the auction, but it appears from financial filings that Legend still owes more than $5 million on the property to U.S. Bank, which financed the development.

It was unclear why the auction date has been pushed back. Phone calls Wednesday to a U.S. Bank spokeswoman and to Portland lawyer Jeanne Sinnott, the trustee for the property, were not returned.

Since launching their preservation bid in November, the Friends of Witham Oaks have raised $146,000 from more than 250 donors, according to the latest tally. While the delay buys more time for the group to pad its bank account, it's still a long way from reaching the

$5 million mark.

On the other hand, Legend Homes reiterated this week that it has no plans to try to buy the property out of foreclosure, and no other potential bidders have emerged.

"We expected nobody would come up to the minimum bid by the auction date," said Friends of Witham Oaks President John Foster. "This doesn't make a huge difference in our plans."

Still, the postponement doesn't hurt. The group plans to use the extra six weeks to extend its fundraising campaign and continue its appeals for assistance to conservation organizations such as the Greenbelt Land Trust the Trust for Public Land.

"We'll just be talking to more folks," said Sherri Johnson, a Friends of Witham Oaks member.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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