JOHN DAY — A divided John Day City Council rejected an appeal of the conditional use permit for a proposed aquatic center on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

The council voted 3-2 to uphold the permit, which was issued Nov. 9 by the John Day Planning Commission. John Morris, an outspoken critic of the aquatic center proposal, filed an appeal of that decision on Dec. 8.

Councilors David Holland, Gregg Haberly and Paul Smith voted for a motion to uphold the permit, while Councilors Heather Rookstool and Elliot Sky voted against it. An earlier motion by Rookstool to hold the record open for two weeks at the request of Morris was defeated along identical lines.

Mayor Ron Lundbom and Councilor Shannon Adair recused themselves from voting because both had spoken in favor of the pool project at the Planning Commission meeting.

In his appeal, Morris argued that the Planning Commission was biased and prejudicial in its decision to grant the permit because he was not given “the same opportunity to provide and to complete his testimony” as those who spoke in favor of the pool project.

He expanded on his objections in 15 pages of written testimony, which he and his wife, Charlene, read into the record at the appeal hearing.

Among other things, their comments claimed that the council “is spinning out of control,” that City Manager Nick Green “controls the city council” and that Councilors Holland and Sky had “demonstrated a lack of integrity, morals and ethics” by their actions in regard to the pool project.

“This entire process is a charade, a farce,” their testimony stated in part. “It is a deceitful, fraudulent way of doing business.”

John Morris concluded by asking the council to hold the record open for 10 days to allow additional testimony to be submitted.

At the suggestion of City Attorney Garrett Chrostek, Rookstool made a motion that the record be held open for seven days to allow additional testimony and another seven days to allow Morris, the appellant, to respond.

“I need more time, the community needs more time — I just think we’re jumping the gun,” Rookstool said.

“I want to make sure that I do my due diligence.”

But other councilors said they saw no merit in the appeal.

“I feel that the conditions, the criteria of the application (for the conditional use permit) were met,” Holland said. “I don’t see any major reason not to do this.”

After the vote, John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District board member Lisa Weigum invited community members to direct any comments, questions or concerns about the proposed aquatic center to the board.

“We appreciate the conversation, we appreciate the Morrises … and we understand how important community input is in this,” she said. “We will happily accept comments and information from the community at any time.”

For their part, the Morrises said they have not yet decided whether to take their appeal further. But they both said the city needs to find a way to have more public involvement in the decision-making process.

The proposed aquatic center would replace the old Gleason Pool, located in a city park adjacent to the Kam Wah Chung State Historic Site. That pool, which opened in 1958, has been closed the last two seasons due to COVID-19 concerns and significant deferred maintenance issues.

The City Council recently approved the sale of Gleason Park, where the pool is located, to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The state is planning a $4.5 million expansion of the Kam Wah Chung Historic Site on the park property.

Plans for the new aquatic center call for a six-lane, 25-yard competitive pool with spectator seating and an 8,000-square-foot structure to house locker rooms, a lobby and office space for parks and recreation staff.

The project has an estimated price tag of $6 million, but the city has already obtained $2 million in state funding and is considering up to $1 million more in cash and in-kind contributions for site improvements, including the money from the sale of the Gleason Park property. The city also plans to cover utility costs for the new pool.

The parks and rec district still needs to raise $3 million to $4 million to cover design and construction of the aquatic center. The district plans to put a bond measure on the ballot next year for either the May or the November election.

If voters in the John Day and Canyon City area (the area covered by the district) approve the bond measure, the new aquatic center could open as soon as the summer of 2023.

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