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Department of Human Services TimberMill Shores concepts

Concept art from Rubicon Investments showing the proposed DHS multi-service center for TimberMill Shores.

The state Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA, handed down a split decision last week regarding the location of a state Department of Human Services building to be constructed in downtown Klamath Falls.

The upshot is that LUBA kicked the issue back to the city council to rectify some of the wording for a conditional use permit, but in general supported the council’s decision to allow the project to go forward.

DHS plans on building a $20 million, three-story, 92,000-square-foot building that will house 265 state employees and lease some Klamath Basin Behavioral Health offices. About two-thirds of the building will be dedicated to office space, with one-third to be used to provide social services, such as welfare and people with disabilities services.

City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said in an email to the H&N, “We are pleased with the LUBA decision which upheld the city’s interpretation of its own code. We will address the two issues LUBA remanded soon. Once those items are addressed, it is our hope that we can move past the negativity and focus once again and the positive things taking place in Klamath Falls.”

The issue was appealed to LUBA by Sky Lakes Medical Center which argued that the building is more of a social services center, not a government building, and is prohibited under the current zoning language. It also questioned the parking study done at the site.

Sky Lakes President CEO Paul Stewart wrote in an email, “The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals agreed with Sky Lakes on two of the four errors we cited, and those are the things the City of Klamath Falls must correct before the project can go ahead.

“In our petition, we argued that the city also mischaracterized the ‘predominant use’ of the proposed social services building. LUBA felt there was merit in some of our arguments, but, in the end, LUBA decided otherwise. We disagree.”

The Sky Lakes board is evaluating whether to appeal the decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, Stewart added.

The project is being developed by Rubicon Investments of Medford. It was once the site of Modoc Lumber and has been in the Rob Shaw family of Klamath Falls for more than 70 years. The last 22 years, the area was a brownfield site that has been cleaned up and awaiting mixed-use development.

“We are happy to hear of their decision to confirm the classification of the building as a government office. LUBA’s decision is not terribly surprising considering these buildings are being constructed in many communities across the state and have all been classified as government office,” wrote Shaw, Managing Partner TimberMill Shores.

“This, along with their failed lawsuit against the state, are certainly an unfortunate waste of valuable hospital dollars that could have been better utilized within our community or the hospital itself.

“It is our hope Sky Lakes stops funding attorneys with our hospital dollars and puts an end to the delays and the additional costs to developers that have invested in our project and community. It is now time to move on and get our community working together again.”

Rubicon’s COO Justin Hurley Braswell said in an email, “We are pleased that LUBA agreed with the seemingly obvious conclusion that offices occupied by the State of Oregon are government offices.”

On the question of KBBH and the traffic impacts, “the effects of sub-tenants were accounted for in the traffic study, so the city only needs to add more discussion to its decision.

“In any event, the impact to traffic will be small as we could double the occupants in this facility and the data shows there is still significant capacity.”

It is not known when the city might take up the issue yet.