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Port takes solid step forward

"Like building a pyramid with the pointed end down.”

That’s the vivid image Port of Hood River manager Dave Harlan used Thursday to illustrate a central point in the issue of effectively developing parks on the Hood River waterfront: how do we pay for it?

The pyramid metaphor refers to planning a park without a careful plan for funding it, or to pay for it in a way that burdens an economically-strapped Hood River County taxpayer base. “To set it aside now and pay for it later is dubious public policy,” Harlan said Thursday in a forum at Hood River Valley High School (details on page A1.)

Decisions are far from complete; a development firm has just been hired, and the City of Hood River will take a close look at the zoning proposal that drives the entire waterfront development process.

Harlan and the Port Commission are doing a good job of making it clear that the public can reap the benefits of parks along the Columbia through private funding of improvements that will also include hotels and other commercial uses.

Harlan literally went under the spotlight in the two forums to present the Port of Hood River’s case. Harlan, completing his second year in the position, proved to be an informed and powerful speaker, first describing what he called “the long and sordid history” of waterfront planning efforts and making it clear that a new conceptual plan is now on the table. He then spelled out the precedents for a privately-funded development effort in Hood River — the Urban Renewal District improvements and Diamond Building renovation of the 1980s.

Finally, Harlan effectively demonstrated that the community has options for creating park areas that are complemented by mixed-used waterfront development. As he put it, the master plan to be developed must address “the whole economic picture” of Hood River County.

That point is difficult for some citizens who are understandably passionate about dedicating the waterfront to parkland. But planning for the waterfront cannot ignore the economic needs of the community. Nor is the Port ignoring the recreational needs of the public.

One thing the Port needs to make more clear is the combinations of tax lots, promenades, islands and other pieces of green spaces it believes can be developed to serve the community, but the Port is wise to show that a variety of land linkages can be done to provide for recreational space along the river.

Harlan deftly noted a point that has been made before but should be stressed: a 22-acre green space, the Marina Park, already exists on the waterfront.

That park is already a popular place for families, with the beach, the picnic benches, the windsurfing access, and even the Hood River County Historical Museum. An underused pedestrian bridge already connects the park to the waterfront area now under consideration (as well as to downtown, if you don’t mind the freeway noise.)

“We need to ask, ‘how will waterfront development help the overall economy of Hood River County?’” Harlan stated.

With businesses and public facilities already present between the mouth of the Hood River and the Hook, the key to waterfront planning is a careful blend of recreation and other uses.

The Port, as evidenced by its presentations Thursday, understands this balance and is getting more skilled at communicating it.

As Harlan put it, “Our task is to open better opportunities for all.”

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