Synopsis

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Witham Oaks Map

Mission

We hope to raise money to purchase the property from US Bank and donate it to the City of Corvallis for preservation as open space.

We envision a management plan that, through partnerships, will protect and restore the property's valuable natural resources while providing public access to open space and trails as well as opportunities for education and research.

Early History

The Witham family came to Oregon by wagon train in 1847. In 1849, Alfred filed a donation land claim to 640 acres extending from what's now the OSU dairy farm west to 53rd street and from Oak Creek to north of the I.O.O.F. cemetary. After he returned from the California gold rush with over $1,000, Alfred brought additional property to the east, enlarging the farm to 1,230 acres-- one of the largest in the area. Taking advantage of the long, lush grass, the Withams, like other early settlers, raised cattle. An early lithograph shows cows grazing in fenced pastures south of the house. They also planted a fruit orchard; some of the trees still grow in the middle section of the Witham Oaks property.

Alfred and Druscilla built a house near the top of the hill on the northeast corner of their property. The former driveway leading up the site of the house still exists as a break in the vegetation angling northwest from the public use path. Large trees--a fir, cedar, and walnut-- mark the site. There they raised nine children: Louisa, Simon (born on the Oregon trail), Mary, Oliver, Charles, Fannie, Henry, Edward, and Elvin. A tenth child, Charlie, died at age one. As a leading citizen, Alfred took on many civic responsibilities, serving as justice of the peace and county sheep inspector. He invested in the Yaquina railroad and Philomath College. In 1861, he was elected to the state legislature, serving in the house and later the state senate, for a total of 10 years.

withamhilltrees A small school on the north portion of the property, nicknamed Woodpecker College, served about 30 students per year from about 1900-1940. Several of Alfred's children also built on the property. Elvin, who married Martha Dixon, built close to his parents home. Althought the house burned in 1985, the foundation of granite stones (from the quarry located off what's now Fernwood Drive) still stands. Son Edward built further to the north, near what is now Witham Hill Drive, and Edward to the west. When Alfred died in 1908, he was buried on the property. The land was divided among his heirs. Elvin and Martha remained on the Witham Oaks property but some other heirs sold their portions.

By 1929, ownership of both the land between the original claim and 36th street and the land to the west (that's now owned by OSU) had passed outside the family. OSU moved it's turkey research facilites to the western portion around 1947. In the 1950s, Harold Whiteside created the Witham Hill subdivision on the eastern slope, naming the streets for his father, Clarence, and daughters, Elizabeth and Merrie.

After Elvin died in 1935 and his wife in the early 1950s, the remaining Witham land --including the Witham Oaks portion-- was sold outside the family. At that time, the land was outside city limits and without city services. Efforts to bring the land into the city and develop it began in 1978.

Recent History

The following appears on the Greenbelt Land Trust's website: (Full text PDF)

"This approximately 94.6 acre property, known previously as Frager Property, is part of a 133.7 acre tract that has been considered for annexation to the City of Corvallis since 1978. Between January 1978 and November 2002, six annexation and development proposals for the site were defeated by the voters.

Oaks of Witham Hill In the November 2000 Corvallis Open Space bond measure, the City of Corvallis purchased approximately 35 acres in the NW portion of the site. The acres purchased by the city included the majority of the upper hillside containing mostly oak woodlands and some fir. At approximately the same time, five acres on the SE corner of the site was purchased for a Jewish Community Center.

In November 2004 a new owner Legend Homes (Matrix Development Corp) again placed the property, now called Witham Oaks, before the voters to be annexed and developed. This annexation passed and in December 2006, Matrix Development applied for a detailed development plan for the site. After appeals to the City Council, LUBA, and DSL the detailed development plan for the property was approved for development. This plan would have developed 221 single family and attached housing units located primarily on the center of the site. Approximately 23 acres of wetlands would not have been built upon, but probably donated to the City of Corvallis. An additional 27 acres would have been protected as common area or given to the City of Corvallis to add to the current Witham Hill Natural Park. In June 2008, Matrix Development declared bankruptcy. The property was in foreclosure and was auctioned off on March 29, 2010 by US Bank, Portland. No one bid on the property at that time, but the Friends of Witham Oaks attended and announced the sum of their fundraising efforts to date. Fundraising continued after the auction while the property was listed for sale.

In February 2011, Campus Crest Development submitted their Letter of Intent to US Bank and began the long process of creating a development plan. Their plan (submitted February 2012), specifically targeted at student tenants, would require a zone change to convert 27 acres of the Witham Oaks property from RS 6 to RS 12-20 and allow for an apartment complex to house 900 students. The request also included a rezoning of the remaining property to open space conservation.

As of June 18, 2013, Campus Crest is in the process of responding to Planning Department staff comments. As soon as that is complete the hearing date to simultaneously review both their development plan and zone change request will be set.

Benefits