Bogged  Down
©The Register Guard (Used with permission)

ASGHAR SADRI is not exactly a household name in Lane County.

But he could become one soon, depending on what the developer has in mind for the 140 acres he owns near Hyundai in west Eugene.

A number of property owners in that area, including Ed Aster and Randall Cuddeback, are moving ahead with development proposals as Hyundai gears up for production at its $1 billion phase one computer chip factory.

The low-profile Sadri, of Vancouver, Wash., may join them, although his intentions are largely a mystery. He and his Eugene attorney, Michael Farthing, did not return phone calls from The Register Guard.

The 140 acres that Sadri bought 20 years ago and that houses the Eugene Speedway could be extremely valuable - either for development or as a wetlands preserve.

About 100 acres of Sadri's property, which fronts West 11th Avenue and Willow Creek Road,is a rare form of wetlands called "wet prairie"- and that has sparked a complex, high stakes dispute. Less than 1,000 acres of wet prairie remain in the Willamette Valley, down from 200,000 to 300,000 acres before white settlers came to.the valley.

Sadri's representatives are fighting for permission to fill and develop much of the site. They favor keeping about 30 acres north of the speedway and along Willow Creek as wetlands, and being allowed to fill all the rest. That would result in destruction of about 70 acres of wetiands - a huge amount by standards in Oregon. By contrast, federal and state regulators are letting Hyundai fill only about 10 acres of wetlands for the first two phases of its factory.

Planning commissions for Eugene and Lane County recently recommended barring Sadri from filling about 50 acres on the eastern half of his parcel. But, recognizing the land's value as one of Eugene's last large tracts zoned for industry, they advised that the remainlng 50 acres of wetlands be designated for development. To compensate for the filling, Sadri would have to improve wetlands elsewhere or pay into Eugene's wetlands mitigation bank, which creates, restores or enhances public wetlands. The Eugene City Council and Lane County Board of Commissioners - and eventually the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Division of State Lands- have final say on how much wetlands can be filled for development

A handful of individuals, meanwhile, are arguing for more preservation.

Eugene's wetlands are "the crown jewel, and they're being whittled away," complained Evelyn McConnaughey, president of the Eugene Natural History Society. She and her husband, Bayard, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Oregon, both urged the city to designate all the wetlands on Sadri's site for protection.

City planners say their proposal is an acceptable compromise because it protects nearly half of Sadri's property from development. Under the city's federally approved wetlands conservation plan, the city must balance property owners' interests with the goal of preserving this rare habitat for plants and wildlife.

Rare plants:

When the original wetlands plan was drafted in 1992, consultants presumed the area around the speedway was a rye grass field, not wet- lands. But mapping in 1993 found the field was actually wetland prairie that had been plowed in 1986 and mowed in subsequent years.

Sadri's wetlands consultant, Phil Scoles of Portland, called the property's condition "anything but pristine." An aerial photo taken in 1987 shows the entire parcel had been farmed, he said.

But environmental advocates believe the property is important because of its location and the presence of rare plants on the east side of the parcel.

The site is "an important piece of (Eugene's wetlands) puzzle," said Joel Shaich, Oregon wetlands coordinator for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. The land drains into Willow Creek and is near the 335-acre Nature Conservancy wetlands preserve south of West 18th Avenue, he said.

Recent surveys show several rare plants, including Bradshaw's lomatium, still grow on Sadri's land, despite the earlier disturbances.

If city and county elected officials approve the city's recommendations, Sadri could fill up to 50 acres of wetlands - the largest fill in the area governed by the west Eugene wetlands plan and one of the largest statewide since state and federal agencies began regulating wetlands in the 1980s.

The potential for massive wetlands destruction at Sadri's property troubled the EPA, Shaich said.

"If there was no west Eugene wetlands plan and this landowner had come in for a permit, I think it would have been very difficult to justify filling as much as the plan will allow," he said.

However, the agency eventually backed the recommendation because it would protect the sensitive wetlands along Willow Creek, Shaich said.

Yet, Sadri wants to fill even more. In a Dec.17, 1996 letter to city planners, Sadri's lawyer indicated that Sadri is ready to begin developing his property. The letter didn't specify what Sadri wants to build.

Sadri has worked on mobile home parks and other residential property in the Portland area, but little is known about what he envisions for his Eugene property.

"The brokerage community doesn't really know what he (Sadri) intends," said Larry Campbell, a real estate broker who has represented many property owners in west Eugene, including the Gonyea family, which sold land to Hyundai, and Ed Aster, the developer of Westec Business Park.

Sadri's representatives are considering asking the city to amend its Metropolitan General Area Plan, which guides long-range planning in the area and for a rezone to allow commercial development on acreage that fronts West 11th Avenue, which is currently designated for industrial use, said Neil Bjorklund, a senior planner with the city. they might also request that the property along Willow Creek Road, across from Hyundai's factory, from residential to commercial use, he said.

The city already is mulling over Aster's request for a Metro Plan amendment and zone change, which will soon go before the City Council. Aster wants to build a hotel and commercial center on 14 acres north of Hyundai, which are currently zoned for industrial use.

WetIands plan origins

Many west Eugene property owners took their lumps five years ago when government agencies adopted the original west Eugene wetlands plan. That document spelled out how 1,500 acres of wetlands would be. preserved, restored or filled. The designations are based on, for example, whether endangered plants or wildlife are found on the property, and whether the site has significant development value. Numerous developers found their land was designated for protection, sharply reducing its value.

The plan designated most of Sadri's land for development, but required the city to conduct further mapping of wetlands there. In 1993, when city consultants found more wetlands than originally expected, the Division of State Lands and Corps of Engineers approved Eugene's plan, provided that more wetlands on Sadri land be protected. They left it up to the city to recommend the amount.

Later, the city began updating the wetlands plan, resulting in a package of 85 amendments. The changes would affect 40 to 50 properties, Bjorklund said. But many of those sites can be developed because they contain small, isolated wetlands missed in earlier inventories, he said.

In March 1996, the city recommended a plan similar to the one favored by Sadri: protecting the wetlands north of the speedway and in a 4O0-foot-wide corridor along Willow Creek. However, the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected that plan, arguing that it failed to protect enough wetlands.

In October 1996, city and county elected officials approved most of the amendments, but postponed dealing with several thorny issues, including Sadri's land and the site Hyundai has designated for the third phase of its factory. Now, local officials are hoping to settle the question of how much of Sadri's land to protect.

At its meeting on Monday, the Eugene Planning Commission will discuss when to take up Hyundai's phase three wetlands protections.

Sadri's prospects

Sadri and another investor, Wallace Teuscher, bought the 140-acre speedway parcel from Tom and Frank Stirling and Western States Investments Inc. for $592,418 in March 1977, according to Lane County property records.

Bjorklund, the city planner, said Sadri envisioned building a shopping center there. Lane County's economy was booming the late 1970s, but plunged into a deep recession for the first half of the 1980s.

In October 1989, Teuscher, who had filed Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, transferred his interest in the property to Sadri.

In December 1992, Sadri and Frank and Mary Glasser bought 310 acres south of Fern Ridge Reservoir, in the Coyote Creek basin. They paid S.A. and Ruby Cuddeback $200,000 for the land, according to a deed filed with Lane County.

Sadri appears to have bought that site in order to restore or enhance wetlands there to make up for those that would be filled by developing the land around the speedway, said Bjorklund and Steve Gordon, a planner with the Lane Council of Governments. That mitigation would comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which mandates no net loss of wetlands.

It's unclear how much mitigation Sadri could perform by enhancing or restoring wetlands at the Coyote Creek site, Bjorklund and Gordon said. Sadri could also pay the west Eugene wetlands mitigation bank about $30,000 for each acre of wetlands he would destroy around the speedway site.

The speedway has been listed as an inactive business for the past two years with the Oregon Secretary of State office's corporation division. Nothing in the proposed wetlands amendments would prevent the speedway from operating. However, city and county planners predict that as the surrounding property is developed, a noisy race track would become incompatible with the new developments.