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Surprise offer puts new twist on waterfront

Andy von Flotow offers to buy land and develop park

A delay in a City of Hood River zoning hearing will give Port of Hood River officials more time to mull a Hood River developer’s surprise offer to buy the waterfront.

“I’ll build the park for you,” Andy von Flotow told the Port commission Tuesday night.

“I’ll take the waterfront property off your hands and build a super park. I can afford the park and I can put cash in your pocket,” he said.

Von Flotow’s verbal offer received mild responses from the commissioners, but the president of Hood River Technology Corp., said he would turn in a written proposal, as the commission requested.

Von Flotow’s offer comes as the Port is in talks with the developer it recently chose to develop a master plan for the waterfront. The Port is negotiating with William Smith of Bend over his scope of work, which primarily will involve drafting a detailed market analysis of the property, and a master plan for developing it.

First, the city must approve a mixed-use zoning plan for the waterfront, in a hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

However, the city announced Thursday it needs more time on the issue, for two reasons. City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge said the Planning Commission will open the hearing and then continue it to Sept. 3 without taking testimony.

“When we sent out the notice of hearing, the state Department of Land Conservation and Development had mixed reactions to the mixed used zoning and how it dovetails to industrial lands,” Walbridge said. The city will meet with with DLCD economic specialists and prepare a response to our mixed use zone and how it relates to the city’s industrial land base, in time for the Sept. 3 hearing.

Also, under Oregon administrative rules regarding transportation, the city is required for all rezones to conduct a traffic study of the affected area, which the city has hired Kittleson Engineers of Portland to do.

“It has to be done before we can justify the zone change,” Walbridge said.

“It’s feeling 11th hour-like right now with some of these pieces of information,” she said, adding that the city is still working with affected property owners including Nichols Boatworks, Luhr Jensen and Sons, and Hood River Distillers.

“We are trying to work with them to understand their concerns,” she said. “We want to bring a staff report to the public hearing that has all these issues addressed.”

Von Flotow said the upcoming hearing is just part of what he said will be a “dreadful community battle” over the waterfront.

“Divorce yourself from the battle,” he said. “Receive and accept an offer from a guy with a pocket book.”

Von Flotow said he can build a park on the north side of Portway Drive and commercially develop the rest of the waterfront, in keeping with the wishes of the Port and the community as a whole. That would include whatever arrangements the Port reaches with Columbia Gorge Community College. The Port and college are now putting together a lease agreement to site the Hood River campus on the waterfront, in a deal expected to last three to five years. Several modular buildings and a landscaped area would comprise the campus, located just east of the Expo Center.

“Whatever deal they have with the college, I’d honor,” von Flotow said.

Port attorney Jerry Jaques said, “He (von Flotow) can submit anything he wants to and the Port can decide to review it to the extent it wants to.

“I would ask what message you are sending to the developer if you begin to seriously consider an offer from Mr. von Flotow,” Jaques said.

Several Port commissioners told von Flotow they would look at a written proposal, but Port director Dave Harlan took a cautious approach.

“The number one issue is, will this bring peace? I’m concerned it may not be acceptable to other people in the community,” Harlan said.

“We have to know a lot more (about von Flotow’s offer),” he said. “It’s tough to say yes or no. We are a long way into the (Smith negotiations) process.

Harlan said the chief issues are who would own the park and who would maintain it if the Port property were sold outright to von Flotow or any other developer.

The community is extremely concerned about the future of the waterfront, Harlan noted.

“That (purchase) may bring peace with you, but there may be concerns from other people,” he told von Flotow.

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