Ananda spiritual group purchases 175 acres near Gaston to build sustainable community

The Oregonian/December 5, 2013

By Andrea Castillo

Leaders of the spiritual group Ananda officially own 175 acres of residential land near Gaston.

The group put down $400,000 in May toward the land surrounding their existing 55-acre college and wellness retreat center with plans to create a sustainable community. The area is zoned in five-acre residential lots.

Ananda, a global spiritual group, is based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, an Indian yoga master. Yogananda’s teachings through the early 20th century combined Eastern yoga and meditation with Western philosophies.

The new property costs $2.25 million total. Ananda Laurelwood Director Eric Glazzard said the $1.85 million balloon payment, which was due Nov. 24, officially went through the escrow process Nov. 27.

“That land is now Ananda,” he said. “It’s done.”

Ananda leaders are still seeking donations or secure investments to finance the land purchase. The group used $200,000 in bridge loans to complete the balloon payment, which allowed leaders to meet the deadline and pay back the rest when they can. They are working with Semble, a lending platform that facilitates loans between investors and nonprofits.

The Ananda Center at Laurelwood is considered an educational nonprofit. It started as a retreat center with workshops including yoga and energy healing. It also offers a non-credit residential study program and a non-accredited (but state authorized) college offering bachelor and associate degrees and educational certificates.

But leaders have been quick to clarify that -- unlike the main campus -- the new residential property will not be tax-exempt. Their goal is a sustainable community, clustering the allotted 35 homes to maximize the surrounding farmland and create communal gardens, orchards and walking trails.

“The goal isn’t increased density," Glazzard said. “The goal is appropriate land use.”

Glazzard said he plans to eventually open a small office as the center of activity for the residential land. He hopes members of the larger Gaston community will stop by to ask questions.

“It feels like we’re carrying forward some of the central commitments that have been on this property since 1904 -- a sense of community surrounded by education,” he said, giving a nod to the property’s past as a Seventh-day Adventist school. “A lot of what has been in place is a lot of the values we hold and are trying to steward.”

With a background in construction, Glazzard said he knows a bit about Oregon land use law. He was an independent contractor before giving up his business to lead Ananda's Portland area operations.

Glazzard's construction license is still active in Oregon, under the business name Building with Spirit, which he said is used solely for Ananda projects. He said he no longer has employees and isn't paid for construction work, but supervises volunteer groups or hires subcontractors.

David Beasley, superintendent of the Gaston School District, said community members have had different ideas of what Ananda plans to do with the land. Some thought the goal was to build one building for retreats instead of individual houses. Beasley thought the group’s sustainability focus meant they wouldn’t build anything and keep the land in its natural state.

Beasley hopes the development brings in families with children. Residences would also be subject to a school construction excise tax, which funds the cost of new or upgraded school facilities.

“We don’t have any beef or any angst against that group,” he said. “It’s just that we knew that land…would be a nice potential for some income for us because of the tax and, of course, some students.”

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