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After 23 Years Of Free Rent Gladstone Evicts Tenant From Oddball Property
The way Jerry Herrmann sees it; he got swept up and dumped in a political house cleaning.
But Herrmann's landlord, the city of Gladstone, views it differently. Newly elected officials there see him as a liability and the land he occupies as an overlooked, under-performing asset.
For 23 years, Herrmann leased one of Clackamas County's odder pieces of property from Gladstone. The half-acre parcel, once a water treatment facility, is within the city limits but totally surrounded by Oregon City and separated from Gladstone by the Clackamas River.
The riverside site is home base for Herrmann's River Resource Museum and his non-profit efforts that include environmental education and a job-training program for young people.
Now Gladstone wants him out. And soon.
Herrmann signed a lease with former Mayor Wade Byers, a fixture in Gladstone politics, in 1992. Herrmann would clean up and maintain the land, which would be used for his charitable activities.
Herrmann got the land rent-free but had to pay for utilities and insurance. He claims that the maintenance and security he's provided over the years is worth $500,000.
All was well until last November when Byers, who had been Gladstone mayor for 36 years, lost a tight three-way race by six votes.
Things quickly began to change when the new mayor, Dominick Jacobellis, a retired Portland police lieutenant, and three new councilors took office in January.
Under pressure from the City Council, Police Chief Jim Pryde unexpectedly retired in March, four months earlier than he had intended.
"They offered me a good severance package to retire early and I took it," said Pryde when he announced he was leaving.
Pryde accepted a near $60,000 severance package and promised not to take any legal action against the city.
City Manager Pete Boyce soon followed, leaving quietly in June.
"This wasn't a knee-jerk reaction," Jacobellis said. Before acting, councilors held lengthy closed-session discussions about Boyce and Pryde and asked, "are these people filling those roles to the best of their ability," he said.
Then, the spotlight shifted to Herrmann.
As Jacobellis and the new council reviewed the city's assets they came across the city-owned property leased to Herrmann.
Gladstone Mayor Dominick Jacobellis talks about his vision for the cityDominic Jacobellis was narrowly elected Gladstone mayor last fall. He defeated Wade Byers, who served as mayor for 36 years. Jacobellis says changes are on the way.
Gladstone bought the land and built a pump station and treatment plant in 1963 to supply drinking water to city residents. The plant was closed in 1985 because of ground water contamination.
The surplus property wasn't benefitting Gladstone, Jacobellis said. In fact, it was a potential liability, he said.
"It's city property," said Jacobellis, but "what kind of oversight do we have over it?"
The site is next to an Oregon City urban renewal project where hundreds of apartments, condominiums as well as commercial space and a park will be built around a lagoon known as Clackamette Cove.
Oregon City has been interested in buying the land for more than 25 years.
"When I was mayor we tried to buy the Gladstone property for the Cove development, but Gladstone firmly supported Jerry's presence," said former Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris, who was in office from 2003 to 2010.
It makes sense to sell the land to Oregon City, which is still interested, Jacobellis said.
But that would put Herrmann out of business.
"This is going to destroy us as an organization," Herrmann said.
Herrmann, 69, is one of Clackamas County's more colorful characters.
"He sings, he raises nursery plants, he tells stories often fraught with historical errors, he develops projects that benefit at-risk youth, and maintains an honest and deep religious faith," Norris said.
Politically savvy, Herrmann knows how to build and keep close ties to local civic leaders and public officials.
"He is smart, friendly and maintains phone contact and phone numbers with elected and appointed leaders who can assist him," Norris said.
Those connections help Herrmann obtain the grants that fuel his not-for-profit efforts.
In the last 11 years, for example, Herrmann obtained more than $120,000 in grants from Oregon City, including $3,300 for The New History Minstrels, his barbershop quartet that specializes in songs about Oregon's past.
Herrmann handles citywide cleanup and beautification projects for several cities, including Gladstone and Oregon City. He conducts river tours that focus on the environment and local history. And he raises native plants on the Gladstone property that are used in civic beautification projects.
Herrmann said if he is forced to move on short notice he will have to return around $100,000 in grants.
"I'll have to return money because I can't get the job done," Herrmann said. "I have to perform on these or I'll have a black eye."
Herrmann said he is negotiating to buy or lease land elsewhere in Clackamas County.
"Our real desire is to stay here. We think we're doing really good work for the cities," Herrmann said.
Herrmann maintains that his lease automatically renews every five years and it's valid until early 2017.
The city claims that lease expired in 2006 and Herrmann failed to comply with the lease's renewal requirements. The city says Herrmann has been a month-to-month tenant for nearly 10 years.
The City Council voted last month to terminate the rental agreement with Herrmann and ordered him to leave by Aug. 31.
Herrmann responded by suing the city, claiming he will suffer $150,000 in damages if he's forced to move that quickly.
The lawsuit buys Herrmann some time.
Herrmann wants a judge to interpret the lease and when it actually expires, said Lawrence Sherris, Hermann's attorney. "We're saying, 'hold on, we have this issue and we want the court to determine what's correct,' " Sherris said.
Small town, big plans
Gladstone has long been a quiet suburban outpost. With little room for new development and its population static at about 12,000, the 2.5-square-mile town flies under the radar.
"Gladstone's pretty much been the same place for 30 years," said Interim City Manager Ross Schultz,
While nearby towns – Oregon City, Canby, Milwaukie and Lake Oswego – have spruced up their historic downtowns and brought in new businesses, downtown Gladstone remains largely unchanged over the years.
Jacobellis said he wants to change that.
"We're looking forward and trying to improve the city," Jacobellis said.
Disposing of the property Herrmann has occupied for decades is a small piece of a grand effort, he said.
Jacobellis is seeking a $176,000 Metro grant that will start an ambitious planning effort that will improve Portland Avenue, which serves as downtown's Main Street.
Also on the to-do list: Replacing the obsolete City Hall, which is about 50 years out of date.
Jacobellis said that in the near future the city will ask voters to approve funding for a new City Hall and a new police station. State law requires law enforcement agencies to meet new seismic standards by 2022.
That will require the support of Gladstone voters.
-- Steve Mayes
For Mark Ross, founder of Ross NW Real Estate and professional real estate broker, real estate has always been the career of choice. During his 25+ years in the industry, Mark has gained experience in....
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