UNION — Jane and Frank Wentzel of Baker City in August 2018 bought land in Union they hoped to build a home on.

The property at 103 N. Bellwood St. is near Catherine Creek and close to their daughter. The Wentzels, both in their 70s, saw it as an ideal spot.

What happened with trying to build there was far from ideal. After fighting for more than a year to live on the land, the Wentzels ended the effort. 

“The most maddening part was we wanted to use that land and live there, right by the riverfront,” Jane Wentzel said. “But we came to a dead end.”

Union City Administrator Doug Wiggins said the Wentzels purchased the land knowing they would have to get a conditional use permit in order to build a home there. The city zoned the 2.2 acres the Wentzels purchased as commercial property in 2015 after completing a nearly $30,000 study to develop a zoning map of the city. 

Jane Wentzel said she thought getting the permit would be a “no-brainer” because two houses were established nearby. The Wentzels submitted an application for the permit Oct. 10, 2018. The city’s planning commission considered the matter a week later at a public hearing.

Prior to and during the hearing, locals spoke for and against the permit. Business owners who shared the road with the property were concerned about their ability to grow their businesses and stood in opposition. Other locals were concerned it would take away land from new businesses that might revitalize the community.

“You will add another nail in Union’s coffin if this is approved,” Dick Middleton, a longtime Union resident, told the commission. 

The commission decided in a 3-1 vote to deny the permit.

According to the letter the city sent the Wentzels, the denial was because allowing the land to be used for a residence would contradict the master plan for the city. 

“We felt like it was a gut punch after the planning commission meeting,” Jane Wentzel said. 

Wiggins supported the decision.

“We don’t have a lot of commercial ground in town,” he said. 

As a compromise, the couple decided to split the land into three lots, and the planning commission unanimously approved. With two new lots for potential businesses and buyers, the Wentzels looked to change the zoning on the third lot to residential.

They filed for a zone change in April in addition to suggesting a zone swap for a residential property on Medical Springs Highway owned by Coy Wilde. Under that scheme, the Wentzels figured the city would not lose any residential or commercial property.

However, the city denied the Wentzels proposal. The city in a letter cited the rejection was due to Wilde’s noncompliance with zoning conditions and out of concerns Wilde would not follow through on using his property for a business. 

The Wentzels presented their proposal during a June 19 public hearing before the planning commission. The final decision regarding the matter went to the city council Aug. 12. During both public hearings, the Wentzels attempted to address concerns that opponents raised to the zone change. 

Some, such as Dennis Clark, who owns a workshop near the Wentzels’ property, said having people living in the commercial zone could lead to the city getting noise complaints. And Union resident David Orcutt said, “I can see problems in the future with mixing and matching commercial and residential properties.”

Not everyone disapproved. Gary Koegler of Union said he was in favor of the zone change because it would encourage more people to move to town. 

The council again voted 3-1 against the zone change. The planning commission and city council both cited the 2015 study in their decisions.

That was enough for the Wentzels.

“We made the decision to stop digging in a hole that has no bottom,” Jane Wentzel said.

She said they anticipate closing soon on a deal to sell two lots for $34,000 total, which will go toward paying off their debt incurred from purchasing the property. 

“The thing that kills me is they are just going to park equipment on the land,” she said. “I hope the city is happy with their decision. They could have had three new families.” 

But that was not the city’s intention for the land.

“The city is not holding out for anything other than recognizing that it was zoned commercially and wishes to maintain that zone for commercial use,” Wiggins said. “The property was originally a flour mill until it was torn down in the mid-1990s. It has always been commercial property, and the city continues to maintain it in that fashion.”

Jane Wentzel said she and her husband plan to keep the remaining lot at 103 N. Bellwood St. as an area to spend time with family and will keep horses there.

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