A Gazette-Times editorial in November about Witham Oaks asked if Corvallis needs additional parkland and open space. Former Corvallis Park and Recreation Director Julee Conway says acquiring open space is the most important function a park department can be doing right now. The price is right.
The drive to raise funds to purchase Witham Oaks for an open space/natural area has raised almost $150,000 in less than two months. Donations have come in from all areas of Corvallis, other cities in Oregon and even from other states, including Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, California and Washington. Support also comes from the local chapters of Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Native Plant Society as well as Greenbelt Land Trust, Trust for Public Land and our own Corvallis City Council.
Acquiring the Witham Oaks area for open space complies with sustainability goals because it is easily accessible to thousands of Corvallis residents by walking, biking or public transportation. With the addition of Witham Oaks to our green necklace of natural areas, everyone can get the healthy benefits of a green space without having to drive to experience it. Portland brags about having Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the nation. Witham Oaks Natural Area would provide Corvallis with similar bragging rights.
The Gazette-Times editorial also raised questions concerning loss of tax revenue on this property. Currently the annual taxes on the entire property are under $15,000 a year and those are currently three years past due.
Other people are concerned about the loss of potential tax base if and when the 225 proposed homes are built on the property. Development does not pay for itself. The larger a community becomes, the more taxes all citizens pay for services and infrastructure. Corvallis has functioned the past three years without any taxes from that property and developing it will likely cost all of us more in taxes.
Corvallis desperately needs affordable housing, but with less than 60 percent of the Witham Oaks property available for building and the cost of extending Circle Boulevard, the proposed homes will not be affordable housing, other than the 10 percent required by the Land Development Code.
One major concern of biologists is the watershed. While Corvallis might need more houses in the future, this particular area is in the Oak Creek watershed and all the water eventually flows into the Willamette. The temperature of that water is critical to protecting listed species fish in the Willamette and its tributaries. Would a housing development protect the watershed better than leaving it in its natural state? This wetland has the potential to support several threatened plant species in addition to filtering and cooling the water that flows into the Willamette.
To learn more about the benefits of Witham Oaks as a potential natural area, and to ask questions, come to the Witham Oaks Community Celebration at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Odd Fellows Hall, 223 S.W. Second St. Local author Chris Maser will speak about "The Critical Necessity of Open Space."
Louise Marquering of Corvallis is one of the leaders of the organization Friends of Witham Oaks.