If you drive past Trader Joe's on Hilfiker Lane SE, on your left you'll see a surprising urban sight: thirty acres of beautiful undeveloped land.
Unfortunately, there's a decent chance that before too long this property will become thirty acres of much less beautiful developed land.
But not if a group of people devoted to seeing the land remain as natural as possible succeed in their effort to stop the planned subdivision. Consider joining the Friends of The Meyer Farm Facebook group if you share their goal.
The Statesman Journal has done some good reporting on plans for the Meyer Farm. Family intrigue is involved. Here's some excerpts from "Subdivision, tree removal proposed for historic 30-acre Meyer Farm in southeast Salem."
A proposal to turn nearly 30 acres of pastoral land in southeast Salem into a 138-lot, single-family residential subdivision has been filed with the city, and the public comment period ends at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1.
The property in question, 4540 Pringle Road SE, is known as the Meyer Farm. A five-minute walk from one of the busiest thoroughfares in town, it features mostly open space with a large oak grove, a creek and views of the Cascades.
...Geoffrey James, land use chair for Morningside, posted its concerns on the "Friends of The Meyer Farm" Facebook Group page.
The group, created in April 2021, wants to save what it identifies as a historically significant urban farm, which includes an 1854 barn and a 1915 farmhouse. It is the last remaining parcel from Joseph Waldo's Donation Land Claim of 1852.
Complicating the proposal is the fact that the Henry A. Meyer Revocable Living Trust, which owns the property, has been mired in a trust dispute in Marion County Circuit Court for more than two years. The next scheduled proceeding is a status check hearing on Monday, Oct. 4, in Judge Thomas Hart's courtroom.
Henry Meyers' descendants, including five living children, have been split on selling the property, and complaints of trust mismanagement have surfaced.
The trustees were removed and the court appointed a successor trustee, attorney Michelle M. Morrow, around October 2020. Morrow's attorney, David L. Carlson, signed to authorize the filing of the subdivision application.
It's decidedly weird that what sounds like a caretaker trustee, Michelle Morrow, decided to take the side of the Meyer family that wants to develop the property, entering into an agreement with a Portland real estate developer, Martin Kehoe of Kehoe Northwest Properties.
This seems to almost guarantee a legal battle between Morrow, Kehoe, and the Meyer family members who favor the 30 acres becoming a subdivision, and the Meyer family members who want the land to remain much as it is -- perhaps becoming a city park.
I've recently started watching the streaming series Succession, which is about the intense family struggle to determine who gets to carry on the legacy of Logan Roy, a man in his 80's who founded the huge business that may or may not be wrested out of his control.
It'll be interesting to see whether the Meyer Farm saga reaches anywhere near that level of family conflict.
Another Statesman Journal story, "Future of historic SE Salem Meyer Farm hinges on trust dispute, subdivision approval," describes the twists and turns of family control of the property. Excerpts:
Descendants of Henry Meyer have been fighting over the future of the farm for more than two years, split on whether to sell the land or maintain their father and grandfather's legacy for future generations.
...The trust was supposed to be dissolved 20 years after his death — Henry died May 30, 2000, at the age of 84 — but began to unravel before then.
At the time, it was managed primarily by Tim Meyer, one of the sons, an international banker and co-owner of Salem-based Kettle Chips. He was a co-trustee helping plan for the dissolution in 2018, outlining options that included transferring the farm and trust assets to a family-owned LLC, according to one sibling.
Most of the siblings served as a co-trustee at one time or another.
Tim died in April of that year before he could implement any plan, and successor trustees allegedly made plans to sell the farm without consulting all siblings.
Peter Meyer, another son of Henry's who lives in New York, filed a petition in August 2019 in Marion County Circuit Court alleging the successor trustees abused their discretionary authority and engaged in "reckless misconduct" and "willful wrongdoing" in violation of the trust. The petition asked that they be removed and cease and desist all activities to sell the property.
Exhibits filed with the court include a redacted July 2019 letter of intent for the purchase and sale of the farm for a projected 240-unit single-family development for $5.75 million.
Multiple objections, counterclaims and cross petitions have been made in court since.
The court removed the trustees, with no finding of fault or liability, and named a new successor trustee in late 2020, an attorney not related to the family. Up until that point, the trust had been managed by descendants of Henry.
Even though the family drama adds some special spice to the Meyer Farm issue, the backdrop against which it will play out is familiar.
The 30 acres is within Salem's urban growth boundary. Oregon's pioneering land use system uses that boundary to protect farm and forest land near cities that otherwise would be overtaken by unfettered development.
(Witness Phoenix, Houston, and many other cities with a checkerboard style of sprawl caused by developers seeking cheaper land outside the city limits.)
So progressives like me are faced with a quandary about proposed subdivisions such as this one. We support dense urbanization because this is the most efficient use of scarce land inside an urban growth boundary.
But we also have a fondness for nature, and compassion for neighbors of the Meyer Farm who enjoy having all that nearby open space.
I speak as someone who has lived on ten acres in rural south Salem, about six miles from the city limits, for the past 31 years.
Nature is tremendously healing. My wife and I can walk out of our back yard onto trails that lead through our natural property, across a small creek, past a stand of large trees, to a nine-acre community lake.
It's wonderful to have all this close at hand. It helps keep me as (questionably) sane as I am.
I want city dwellers to also have easy access to semi-wild spaces like the Meyer Farm. There has to be a balance between dense urban development and making sure enough natural open space remains for people living in a city to enjoy.
The Meyer Farm property is special, maybe totally unique in Salem, given its size, beauty, and history. It shouldn't become a subdivision unless strong efforts to preserve it as a natural area end up failing.
Here's a screenshot I made of a satellite image of the Meyer Farm property using Google Maps on my iPhone. The 30 acres is the undeveloped square in the center of the image.
Open space is shown in the upper left of the subdivision map, so much of that dense stand of trees apparently would remain. Of course, Friends of the Meyer Farm are arguing that all of the trees should be saved by leaving the property natural. Or as natural as possible, if it were to become a park.