Homebuilder pushes to remove pricey new Happy Valley subdivision out of the Centennial School District

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - Workers put the finishing touches on one of the new homes in Pioneer Highlands.A homebuilder is pushing to remove a pricey new Happy Valley subdivision out of the Centennial School District so children living in the new homes would go to schools in the North Clackamas School District instead.

"Outrageous," is the way Shar Giard, chairwoman of the Centennial School Board and a prominent real estate agent, described the developer's campaign.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP GRAPHIC - Pamplin Media Group graphicHolt Homes, which is building 66 new homes on 30 acres on Happy Valley's Scouter's Mountain in the Pioneer Highlands development, has petitioned Clackamas County to redraw the school district boundaries. The petition calls for pulling more than 300 acres away from Centennial into North Clackamas.

A hearing on the school-boundary matter is scheduled for March 22 before the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, the relevant boundary authority of Clackamas County. Multnomah County also will have to approve the boundary change in a convoluted, multi-step, little-used process.

Holt partner Rian Tuttle said changing the boundaries makes sense for the homes "from a transportation and community" standpoint.

"Look at a map, the majority of that area's traffic heads into Happy Valley. Most of that community funnels into North Clackamas School District," he said.

Pioneer Highlands has been the center of controversy before, drawing ire from some Happy Valley residents worried about traffic and other issues when it was proposed several years ago.

Notes from a recent Centennial School Board meeting report Holt Homes "have found a loophole in the system" to allow a redrawing of the boundaries.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - The 66 high-end homes in Pioneer Highlands is in the Centennial School District, but the developer is trying to change them to North Clackamas School District.Little-used statute

Holt Homes gathered petition signatures from people in the Centennial School District who live within Clackamas County to support filing the petition. Those signatures were verified, forcing the board of commissioners to vote for redrawing the boundaries.

Stephen Madkour, Clackamas County counsel, said "I don't see them (the commissioners) having any discretion."

The commissioners could decline to take action, which would likely bump the issue to the state Board of Education, several sources said.

Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said the obscure statute is rarely used.

"It doesn't happen very often. But if it does, it is generally about a developer wanting to have homes it's building in a different school district so they can get more money for the homes," he said. Green can remember only one such case in the past two decades.

The Centennial board meeting minutes also said the district was offered $50,000 to move nine housing lots because it was important not to have lots in an "inferior district," in the words of a Holt associate.

Tuttle said he had not heard anyone connected with Holt call the Centennial district "inferior."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - Only about half-dozen of the pricey new homes in Pioneer Highlands are substantially completed. Construction underway

Only about a half-dozen homes in Pioneer Highlands are substantially completed. But Holt is touting homes on its website, which suggests that children living in the high-end houses will go to North Clackamas schools.

"(Pioneer Highlands) is located atop Scouter's Mountain, a hill with regional views in Happy Valley, OR," the webpage reads. "Happy Valley enjoys low crime rates, beautiful scenery, and schools that feed into nearby Clackamas High School."

The website also counts the development's "short distance to Happy Valley Elementary" as one of the "additional nearby amenities."

West Hills Homes, which is building the houses for Holt, shows on its website the Pioneer Highlands homes to be in the $800,000 to $900,000 price range with about 3,500 square feet and four or five bedrooms.

Tuttle said Holt reached out to the Centennial district to "make it a positive thing," but has only heard back in a brief email.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Shar Giard, chairwoman of the Centennial School Board, calls Holt Homes move to redraw the boundary 'outrageous.'The Centennial School Board meeting minutes indicate the district would fight this all the way to a special election.

"This request has nothing to do with student education or families," Giard said in testimony prepared for a hearing. "It is simply the request of a greed-driven builder/developer, making sure he can build high-end homes and get more for the home."

This map shows the boundaries of the Centennial School District.Petition "outrageous"

Giard called the request "frivolous and outrageous" and condemned "the unnecessary shuffling of children from one district to another, the increased property tax costs for the homeowners in the 326-acre parcel and all of the time and money now being spent to fight this issue ... all so one builder/developer can line his pockets with additional dollars."

The move would cost Centennial millions of dollars in tax revenue the district would collect to support its schools, Giard noted in the statement.

The North Clackamas School Board has not taken a position on the change, Chairman Rein Vaga said.

Ron Stewart, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said "in general for school districts, more students is better."

Stewart said the district is building a new elementary school and a high school in this fast-growing area. Although school boundaries are in flux, students in Pioneer Highlands would likely attend the new high school, which would not be completed until 2021.

Tuttle said he wants to accomplish the school boundary change without rancor.

"Our hope is to be able to have some communication with Centennial so we can find a way we can be supportive," he said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - Most of the new homes in Pioneer Highlands are not yet under construction.

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