Port commissioners ask to chart waterfront zoning

The Port of Hood River believes the deck has been cleared for mixed-use zoning of the waterfront.

On Tuesday, the elected body moved to anchor three major land-use issues that have torpedoed past planning efforts. Officials limited the amount of acreage for use as a public park and determined the allowable height of buildings and the distance structures could be sited from the Columbia River.

In spite of protests from two critics in the eight-member audience, the port decided on June 3 to ship the following recommendations off to the Hood River City Council:

Guarantee a two-acre park at the northwestern corner of the waterfront that can be enlarged to five acres if funding becomes available for development.

Allow a maximum height of 54 feet for a hotel and require that all other buildings follow existing city guidelines and be limited to 45 feet.

Restrict permanent buildings from being constructed within 75 feet of the river bank. Under that designation, benches and landscaping associated with a waterfront trail would be permitted within the first 50 feet and additional public seating and courtyards within the final 25-foot segment.

Dave Harlan, port director, said the port is also agreeing to retain five acres of industrial property on the waterfront — or provide for it elsewhere at a later date — so the city remains in compliance with state land-use regulations.

Harlan said for more than 10 years a group of citizen activists have attempted to block planning efforts in the interest of preserving almost the entire waterfront as a park. However, he said the port board also has a responsibility to provide jobs for dislocated workers in an ailing economy. He said since 50 percent of the waterfront will be in open space under current planning, the port board decided the remaining parcels needed to be used for economic development. He said a “compromise” was reached following 47 public meetings since June of 2000, in addition to at least six sessions with the city’s Waterfront Task Force.

“The Port of Hood River can’t be just about building amenities for the wealthy few, it also has to serve the need of its many constituents who are struggling to care for their families,” said Harlan in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.

His comments were in reference to a recent statement by Michelle Slade, a spokesperson for the Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development. She outlined the position of the group that the waterfront park should support the growing tourism trade and economic gain brought by “immigrating early retirees, immigrating high net-worth individuals with consulting businesses and clients outside the valley.”

Harlan said the port attempted to factor the CRWD’s long-standing concerns into decision-making, although the request that buildings be prohibited within 125 feet of the shoreline could not be approved without taking away all use on some of the developable parcels.

“We are trying very hard to meet a diverse array of needs and providing family wage jobs within this county is every bit as important as recreational opportunities,” Harlan said.

The port has now triggered a request for the Hood River City Council to adopt a zoning ordinance that will accommodate both recreational, industrial and commercial development. The municipality is charged with setting land-use designations for the 50 acres from the riverside jetty known as the Hook to the Hood River.

City Manager Lynn Guenther said the port’s request will be presented to the council at Monday’s worksession, which does not customarily allow public comment. However, he said there will be at least two hearings to gather citizen input on a draft ordinance. The first opportunity is tentatively scheduled to take place before the City Planning Commission on Aug. 6.

“With every land-use action there is a procedure that government has to follow and the city will adhere to that process to protect the rights of all citizens,” Guenther said.

The evolution of the conceptual drawings and land-use designations will be explained to interested community members by port officials in two town hall meetings. The first forum is being jointly hosted by the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce and will take place at noon on July 31 in the Bowe Auditorium at Hood River Valley High School.

On Tuesday, Port Commissioner Sherry Bohn insisted that an evening presentation be held to accommodate people who are working and cannot make it to the daytime session. Harlan said that event will be scheduled in the near future and the date well advertised.

“If the goal is to get the word out, then we need to get it to as many people as possible,” Bohn said.

Meanwhile, the port has hired the consulting firm of Tashman Johnson of Portland to research options for funding the park. Under consideration is a bond levy that would require taxpayers to foot the standard $1.2 million bill for development and $78,000 for annual maintenance. Another alternative being researched is establishing an urban renewal district. That choice would charge the park costs to the developer who would, in turn, pass them on to businesses settling on the property.

Last week the port winnowed out two architectural companies from six contenders vying to design the waterfront master plan. Three of the finalist firms include team members from Hood River. Planner Scott Keillor, developer Dave Nelson and architectural consultant Sally Donovan add their talents to the work proposal submitted by Harper Houf Righellis, Inc., of Portland. Maui Meyer, owner of the Six Street Bistro and a partner in BMP, LLC, joins the Heritage Investment Corp of Portland in its bid for the project. Architect Carl Perron has thrown his hat into the ring with the Gerding/Edler Development Company of Portland. Also in the race is William Smith Properties, Inc., of Bend.

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