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Gorge Commission OKs Murdoch pact

The Gorge Commission accepted a settlement of the scenic area’s longest-standing boundary dispute in Murdock at its February meeting.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge, which filed seven appeals throughout the six-year history of the matter, agreed to accept the Dallesport Urban Area boundary line as surveyed on Keith Arndt’s 5.2-acre property, giving him two building lots.

In exchange, Arndt will repaint to a dark color the large white barn on his land and remove or screen from view some other structures, including trailers used as dwellings, before he can build the two new homes, said Michael Lang, conservation director for the Friends of the Gorge.

“In summary, cleaning up the property,” Lang said.

The new homes Arndt can build “have to be painted a dark earth-toned color and they have to be located on certain portions of the property,” Lang said. “He has to reduce the visibility and scenic impact on the property and that’s the essence of the agreement.”

Arndt’s father first applied in 2008 for a short plat to divide his land into three parcels.

That was later changed to two parcels. Arndt continued the application after his father died.

The location of the urban area boundary on his property determined whether he would be able to subdivide into smaller lots. The line as it was drawn in a survey he had done in 2011 allowed him to subdivide the land.

The Friends disputed his survey’s accuracy.

The settlement gives Arndt a legally enforceable timeline in which to accomplish the painting of the barn and other shielding activities, Lang said.

Lang said the Friends have “conceded to him where he thought the [boundary] line was. That doesn’t mean that we really think that’s really where the line is, but it’s a settlement.”

Lang lauded the Gorge Commission for encouraging the settlement at the January commission meeting.

Before that January commission meeting, Lang talked to Arndt’s attorney, John Groen, saying it had been “a real shame” that a settlement hadn’t been reached. “I think his words were [there was] a lot of fatigue on all sides. And that stuck in my mind.

“All the parties knew there was a settlement that could be reached if we could just devote the time to do it,” Lang said.

Several commissioners strongly suggested reaching a settlement, before taking a 15-minute recess.

“We didn’t do it in 15 minutes, but within a half hour we had the framework,” Lang said. “Hat’s off to the commissioners to encourage us to do that.”

Gorge Commissioner Rodger Nichols felt the commission’s encouragement of a settlement was its “finest hour,” and Lang agreed. “This is a commission that’s very pragmatic. It’s a problem-solving commission. It’s really nice, I’ll tell you that.”

The direction to settle was “a good direction, it was very timely,” he said.

But Arndt’s neighbor, Don McDermott, remains unimpressed by the now-accepted boundary line.

He told the commission at its February meeting “there have been six surveyors that have looked at this issue and the developer’s survey is the only one that disagrees with the location of the line.”

He said the boundary line was meant to follow an old farm road across the property. He contends it doesn’t follow that old road, but deviates from it by several hundred feet.

“I think the commission is being persuaded to pretend they don’t know where the old farm road is,” he said.

Gorge Commissioner Bowen Blair said, “I would be more concerned about it if there was a significant discrepancy between the settled line and the surveyed line.”

This discrepancy is a couple hundred feet. “I’m thinking more, a half a mile is too much, so I would support the settlement,” Blair said.

To a question from Gorge Commissioner Janet Wainwright, the commission’s attorney Jeff Litwak said the settlement agreement would not create a precedent for the entire scenic area.

The lone vote opposed to accepting the settlement came from Gorge Commissioner Keith Chamberlain. He said, “I have issues with how we’re setting this line.”

Chamberlain, a Skamania County appointee, said he had a constituent in his county with an urban area boundary going through his property also. He asked if that person got to decide where the boundary was going to be and then “come to us and say where the boundary is.”

Arndt could not be reached for comment.

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