Citizens cast 7 lines in quest for waterfront park

Seven proposed ballot measures were filed with the City of Hood River on Friday regarding a riverside park.

The initiatives submitted by members of Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development seek to give voters the “final say” on how shoreline property should be zoned. CRWD wants almost all of the public land between the Hood River and the Hook preserved for recreational use.

“Each of these initiatives is slightly different and, hopefully, one will be acceptable,” said Michelle Slade, CRWD spokesperson.

The varied proposals to accomplish CRWD’s goal arrived at the city’s doorstep just one day after the Port of Hood River requested that the city undertake the public process for mixed-use zoning. The Port, which owns the 50 acres, is asking the city to designate recreational, commercial and light industrial sites.

On Monday, City Attorney Alexandra Sosnkowski informed the City Council that at least one of the measures was worded correctly to qualify for the ballot. Two weeks ago she had determined that a similar CRWD initiative was illegal because the issue was “quasi-judicial” and had to go through a statutory process.

“I think they (CRWD) tried a shotgun approach to come up with something they thought could pass muster,” she said.

Slade confirmed the group was prepared to keep filing proposals in an attempt give citizens the voice they have been denied by the port.

“It (planning process) certainly has not been a democratic process,” Slade said.

Port Director Dave Harlan strongly disagreed with that assertion. He said that 47 public meetings have been held about waterfront development since June of 2000, in addition to at least six sessions with the city’s Waterfront Task Force. Harlan said the port board is also elected by the public and has tried to address CRWD’s concerns by setting aside more than 50 percent of the waterfront as open space in the latest conceptual drawings.

At the June 9 meeting, Councilor Charles Haynie questioned whether voter approval to zone the waterfront for a park could bring legal liability from “regulatory takings.” Sosknowski said that argument could be raised if downzoning of the property brought a significant loss in property value. Last week Harlan stated that the port would lose its current light industrial and commercial uses for waterfront parcels if the park initiative is enacted.

The CRWD contends that a waterfront park will protect the scenic value of Hood River’s “crown jewel” and promote economic development.

As the regulatory process for the waterfront zoning unfolds, Harlan is concerned about an issue of fairness related to the initiatives. He said the CRWD is asking 2,890 registered voters within the city limits to decide on zoning that affects many other port constituents within the county. He said the port currently receives about $35,000 annually in tax revenue from property owners between Parkdale and Wyeth — most of whom will not be given the opportunity to vote.

“Obviously, the port district encompasses a larger area than just the city of Hood River and I think the voices and perspectives of the entire constituency should count,” Harlan said.

But Ann Frodel, another CRWD spokesperson, said there was no intent to exclude other voters from the process. She said the decision to file with the city was based on the fact that it held the jurisdiction to make zoning decisions for the waterfront.

“We felt because it was being directed by the city right now that would be the most suitable way to go,” she said.

Sosnkowski expects the initiatives to be melded into one measure because of their similarity. She told the council that even if the measure then passed, the test of whether it was enforceable would be made in the courts.

“Whether its valid is another question we won’t know until it has been voted on,” she said.

City Recorder Jean Hadley is reviewing the cost to place the measure on both special and general election ballots. Before that happens, the CRWD must gather more than 400 signatures from registered voters. Hadley said both ballot alternatives bring additional costs to the city for staff time. However, she said the charge for a general election ballot is much smaller since it is shared with other entities, with a fee of about $1 enacted for each voter through a special election. Lee Shissler, county elections supervisor, said that fee could rise if the full text on any measures is not able to be fitted on the ballot sheet. If that scenario were to occur, Shissler said a separate flyer would have to be mailed along with the ballot.

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