City seeks ‘Safe Harbor’ from property restrictions

The Hood River City Council may be forced to comply with state resource protection rules — but they plan to avoid devaluing of private property.

“We don’t want to set up more hoops for people to jump through to develop their land and we don’t need to impose restrictions that send the price of land soaring so that people can’t afford to live here,” said Mayor Paul Cummings.

On Monday, the elected body learned it could face sanctions from the Department of Land Conservation and Development for not preserving about 159 acres of wetland and riparian areas. These properties within the city limits and urban growth boundary were recently listed as “significant” in a Goal 5 mapping process.

Although about 163 acres of forested lands was also considered for wildlife habitat protection, officials were allowed not to regulate these sites since they do not house any endangered, threatened or sensitive species.

Several council members expressed discomfiture at the July 14 meeting with imposing restrictions that could create hardship for some landowners. After almost an hour of debate, Mayor Paul Cummings asked planning staffers, “What’s the bottom line here? What’s the minimum we can do?”

Jennifer Donnelly, senior planner, said DLCD had designed a “Safe Harbor” ordinance that could be used as a baseline model. She said when the city accepted a $30,000 grant from the state last fall to complete its required inventory, it also had entered into a contractual agreement to adopt protection standards. If the city failed to act, Donnelly said DLCD had indicated it would step in and levy at least minimal regulations until the city came into compliance.

“It’s probably better if we adopt our own version than have something imposed on us,” she said.

The council directed her to draft up an ordinance that would use a “common sense” approach to regulation, including a provision for removal of poisonous vegetation.

“I’d just as soon start out at the bottom level and if there is widespread support we can always add more,” said Cummings.

Under Safe Harbor, the city would place building setbacks of 75 feet along the Columbia and Hood rivers. In addition, 50 foot setbacks would be placed along fish-bearing Phelps and Indian creeks. Although no restrictions were required for other streams, Donnelly said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Environmental Quality were recommending at least a 10-foot minimum setback along streams that fed into fish-bearing waterways. She said these agencies wanted to keep these passages shaded so that temperatures remained cool for fish. Donnelly said these officials were also concerned about the ecosystem if unprotected streams were sent underground through piping systems that adversely affected the growth of healthy bacteria.

The draft Goal 5 ordinance will be presented to the Hood River Planning Commission for review on Aug. 20. That appointed body will then make a recommendation and forward it to the City Council for consideration. Once the city has adopted the Goal 5 map, it will request that the county follow its suggested guidelines for urban growth areas that will someday be incorporated into the city limits.

Last fall, the city received the DLCD grant and hired Joel Shaich of Wetland Consulting from Portland to inventory areas for protection. He worked with a technical advisory committee to narrow down “significant” sites within the three categories.

“I think the group felt we were trying to balance the best we could between allowing the use and protecting properties,” Shaich told the council at Monday’s meeting.

In November, the city sent out more than 300 letters to landowners who could have their property subjected to a “sensitive “site” overlay zone and protective setbacks.

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