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Port turns down waterfront offer

Commission stays with developer to put together mixed-use plan

The Hood River Port Commission turned down an offer by Andy von Flotow on Tuesday to buy the waterfront and finance a park.

Commissioner Bill Lyons told the president of Hood River Technology Corporation that a public process had already been initiated for mixed-use development of the property. He asked von Flotow why he had not made his proposal during the formal selection process for a developer that began last October. Lyons said eight companies had initially submitted information about their qualifications and that list of applicants had gradually been winnowed to the top choice of William Smith. He said the Bend firm, like other contenders, had been required to answer a series of questions about its plans and had been interviewed in a process that was open to the community.

“The property is not for sale at this time and I don’t think it would be fair to any of the other parties that met our timelines to not follow the process that we’ve started,” Lyons said.

Von Flotow said he had not been aware of the selection process and that he was not proposing to be a developer, just a private purchaser. However, he also stated his intent to recoup some of his costs for construction of a 10-acre park by developing the remaining parcels to their “highest and best use.” In a prior written statement, Von Flotow had suggested that the waterfront retain its existing commercial and industrial zoning, although he would donate the park property to another agency, most likely the Hood River County Parks and Recreation District.

“I, as a private citizen, can afford to do this and I think there is enough value in the remaining land that I might not even lose money. I am prepared to take that risk,” von Flotow told the commission.

When he presented his offer two weeks ago, von Flotow said he wanted to prevent the upcoming “park battle.” He said a clash was likely if the port proceeded with development plans and a citizen initiative to preserve the waterfront for a park was passed by city voters in November.

Meanwhile, the port board has hired a consulting team to help prepare for negotiations with Smith that will begin sometime in September. At the Aug. 19 meeting, the public entity also re-activated two advisory committees that will open up volunteer opportunities to citizens.

The port has paid $38,800 for the services of Richard Hill and Associates. Officials want to carry a clear definition of their goals into the bargaining process with Smith. Consultants Richard Hill and Edward Blum were present on Tuesday to brief the elected body about the many complexities of undertaking a major project, especially under a public/private partnership. They said to expect a few “false starts” and possibly a realization that Smith is not the right party to undertake some or all of the market analysis and master planning.

“Involvement in this situation you are encountering is a once in a lifetime thing for a community and involves a lot of money — the important thing is to make continual progress,” said Hill.

He also reiterated that it was important for the port to keep citizens abreast of its actions since the absence of information could create room for “innuendo and rumor.”

To increase its community outreach, the port has re-activated its Public Relations Committee. For the next two weeks, the agency will advertise for two full-time residents of the port district to serve a three-year term with that group, which will also include one commissioner, a contracted newsletter writer and Dave Harlan, port director.

In addition, the port is seeking to fill six public positions on the Waterfront Recreation Committee. The three-year seats are open to residents within the port’s jurisdiction who represent business, windsurfing, boaters and other shoreline activities. Harlan and one commissioner will also serve with that group.

Individuals interested in these vacancies will be required to complete and return a written application and be interviewed before the final selection is made.

Another stakeholder group will be formed once the city has finished rezoning the waterfront, a public process that begins on Sept. 3, and an agreement is reached with Smith. Harlan said that group will be appointed to provide technical input into the master planning process.

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