Zoning laws could force Buddhists to retreat from Oregon plans

The Associated Press, July 2, 2007

CROW, Ore. (USA) -- A Buddhist group plans to build a $5 million retreat center on forest land dotted with pastures, flower meadows, creeks, springs and lakes.

But it doesn't sound so idyllic to Lane County officials, who say the 160-acre parcel in a valley southwest of Eugene is zoned for growing trees.

County planner Matt Laird said changing the zoning to accommodate the project "would be a very difficult case to make," given the area surrounding the parcel is also zoned for forestry.

The Dzogchen Shri Singa Foundation, based in Nevada, has yet to submit a development plan, Laird said. A press release from the foundation said the group looks "forward to being responsible stewards of this inspiring land," but does not address the zoning issue.

The foundation said it hopes to use the retreat center to teach Buddhist methods that "increase personal happiness, foster social harmony and plant the seeds for world peace."

This is not the first time that someone has sought to develop the property.

The land is the former home of Saragosa, a Western theme park. Rod Hamby, former owner of the parcel, built Saragosa in the 1990s, erecting a handful of vintage-style buildings. Visitors rented rooms over a centerpiece saloon and enjoyed scripted gunfights.

But Hamby never secured the necessary county permits for the recreational park, and the county said his structures violated development rules intended to protect waterways and prevent pollution on forested land.

After years of failed efforts to recast his park as something that the county could approve, Hamby dropped it in 1996.

Hamby sold the property to Charles and Diane Huey in 2000 for $400,000, according to county records. The Shri Singa foundation signed an agreement in May to buy the land for $1 million, according to county records.