Here's how wacky the debate has become about House Bill 3465, which would create a mega-dude ranch in Grant County: the free-market, small government group Americans for Prosperity Oregon opposes the bill, while 1000 Friends of Oregon, long one of the state's most zealous protectors of open lands, does not.

At issue is a bill that would allow Scott Campbell, the founder of the Banfield Pet Hospital chain, to build up to 575 units of "overnight accommodations" on 5,000 acres of his 130,000-acre Grant County ranch.

Destination resorts have been a flash point in recent years, with the 2007 and 2009 battles over proposed developments in the Metolius basin splitting the Legislature. Ultimately, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski and lawmakers, led by Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), secured permanent protections for the Metolius and blocked the developments.

Now, Burdick and Clem are leading the charge for Campbell's proposal—and last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber jumped on board as well.

Earlier in the session Kitzhaber wrote to lawmakers explaining his position on land-use issues. "Legislation that I will not support includes the following types of attacks on the core elements of our state and local land use program," Kitzhaber wrote to legislative leaders on April 5. "Legislative entitlements for specific development projects particularly where there is no demonstrated public benefit and no opportunity for local input."

Opponents of Campbell's project amended the bill, actually making it apply only to his ranch, rather than to his project and two "pilot projects" as originally proposed, but also ensuring specific improvements that would benefit wildlife.

Diane Rosenbaum

"The original bill has been amended to require that in order for this project to go forward, Grant County must make a finding that the ranch (including the development area) will be managed to 'provide significant public benefits in the form of wildlife and acquatic habitat improvements including tree planting, enhancement of reparian areas, meadow restoration for wildlife; and training and education programs (emphasis Kitzhaber's)," Kitzhaber wrote. "With these amendments the bill is now consistent with my land use principles." 

Kitzhaber's spokesman, Tim Raphael, says the Kitzhaber's two letters are consistent because proponents made changes in the bill that "insist on local review and ensure public benefit and conservation."

Although the governor is on board, two groups with very different outlooks are not. Central Oregon Landwatch, an environmental organization opposes the project. "Our perception is this is a special entitlement for one person, as opposed to his having to go through the same process as anyone else," says Jonathan Manton, a lobbyist for the group. "We're concerned about anything that looks like a special deal." 

Americans for Prosperity Oregon circulated a similar message to lawmakers this week. "It's bad public policy that allows government to pick winners and losers. HB 3465 carves out land use policy for one special Grant County landowner," the message reads. "HB 3465 violates sweeping land use reform passed by the legislature in 2009 with HB 3313 that denies the siting of destination resorts in Oregon." 

Clem, the Salem Democratic representative who successfully fought Metolius destination resort projects in 2009, says his support for Campbell's project is consistent with that earlier effort. Clem says he has maintained what he says is a key distinction: He is opposed to rural subdivisions masquerading as resorts because after the initial construction is finished, such resorts provide few jobs. Clem says projects like Campbell's Silvies Ranch, which are restricted to providing overnight, short-term lodging, create tourism and hospitality jobs in depressed rural areas.

"I'm not against destination resorts per se, but only ones that try to get around land-use laws," Clem says. "Most of us believe that destination resorts are gated subdivisions for permanent homes."

Clem acknowledges that Campbell gave a campaign contribution of $5,000 in 2010 but says that did not affect his thinking.

"Five thousand dollars would not make me sell out," he says.

Clem notes that 1000 Friends of Oregon, often a fierce opponent of development on agricultural lands, does not oppose the bill.

Jason Miner, executive director of 1000 Friends, says Campbell's project presented his group with a difficult decision. "In general, we don't support 'super-siting' bills that benefit just one person or group," says Miner, whose group ultimately chose to be neutral on on the bill. "But for a long time we've argued that destination resorts should be based on a tourist model rather than subdivision model. And in this case, we decided the good parts outweigh the bad."

The bill passed the House earlier by a 54 to 6 vote and is awaiting a likely Wednesday vote in the Senate.