Controversial annexation passes first hurdle

Citizen worry over irrigation costs seeped through the Hood River City Planning Commission's annexation hearing on Jan. 30.

That concern had been raised by news that, because of state law, Farmers Irrigation District would no longer provide untreated water to properties incorporated into the city limits.

City Manager Lynn Guenther's attempt to reassure about 80 residents attending the Jan. 30 hearing failed when he could not provide cost data for city takeover of that service.

Several residents expressed fears that water rates would climb so high they could not maintain the landscaping which added value to their properties. Others said higher fees would bring added fire danger since the vegetation on their rural lands would dry out during the hot summer months.

"Until they (city) have a proposal to replace our irrigation water, we shouldn't even be talking about annexation," said Laird Davis, who represented homeowners in the private Stonegate development.

Although the planning commission also had concerns about the "ambiguity" in figures, they gave the nod 3-1 for the city to acquire about 188 acres in the urban growth area, down from about 475 originally suggested. Commissioners Tim Mixon and John Everitt recused themselves from the hearing because of residency in areas proposed for annexation.

The lands recommended for incorporation include: Harvey's Texaco and Timber Crest Condos on the western border, the site at the junction of Frankton and Country Club Roads now proposed for a Wal-Mart super center, 41 acres of sewer right-of-way along Interstate 84, and several growing residential zones -- the Bowe Addition, Adams Loop, Hood View Court, Stonegate, Highland Development, and Bell Court. A large section of Avalon Way has also been added since it is already flanked on three sides by the city boundary.

The majority approval for annexation was given after Guenther and Mark Lago, city public works director, assured the quasi-judicial body that cost estimates would be available at the city council hearing on Feb. 11, which will also be held at the county courthouse.

"I don't think we should recommend this until a number of these financial questions have been answered," said Commissioner Richard Sassara, who cast the sole vote against annexation.

Jennifer Donnelly, city senior planner, said staffers recommended the acreage for annexation be reduced after an in-depth review of the urban growth area boundaries. She said most of the proposed parcels already house subdivisions that have been developed to city standards with smaller lot sizes. Some of the rural parcels omitted from the final map were being used for agriculture and raising livestock, uses that conflicted with an urban setting. However, Donnelly informed the public in attendance that the city council might decide to also include those areas for annexation at its upcoming hearing.

She said the expansion of city borders would provide officials with greater development control and ensure uniform design guidelines as population growth occurred. In addition, Guenther said the city would generate about $300,000 more annually from property taxes, franchise fees, and development charges. He said a portion of that income would be used to maintain the sewer lines and storm drains already providing services to the urban growth areas -- a cost that is now being borne by property holders throughout the city.

However, landowners in the proposed annexation areas were not happy about paying an average of $300 more each year in property taxes when they currently paid only the standard monthly service fee. Some residents with existing septic systems said they would incur even more costs to hook up to city infrastructure.

"It seems to me this is a ploy by the city to try to get more revenue but I don't think my services are going to improve," said Doug Hattenhauer, owner of Harvey's Texaco.

Other residents were more vehemently opposed to the city's plan.

"This is a land grab, regardless of the intentions, our view is that it's a land grab," said Jeff Carter.

He was joined in that outcry by several other property owners who said they were "coerced" into signing consent agreements for annexation in order to purchase their homes.

The city decided to move ahead with annexation based largely on those signed consents that, according to Alexandra Sosnkowski, city attorney, give the legal "double majority" needed for inclusion of the territories.

Both West Side Fire District and Ice Fountain Water District have also registered opposition to the annexation. Although Ice Fountain will continue to provide water services to citizens in the newly incorporated areas, the city has stated its intent to take over fire protection on those properties. The planning commission stated on Jan. 30 that it would be reassuring for citizens to have an intergovernmental agreement signed by all parties as soon as possibly that guaranteed a smooth continuation of services.

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