Waterfront harbors undercurrents

Heights group calls for meeting of the minds on Port waterfront development

The Port of Hood River wants to prevent the latest set of waterfront development plans from being scuttled like numerous past efforts.

As the proposed zoning details are being finalized, port authorities believe that a spate of “misinformation” has re-surfaced about their goals and intent. Officials contend that old arguments over a riverfront park and building standards have held up progress for more than one decade. The port board believes it is time to find the middle ground between recreation and the need for more family-wage jobs.

“We’re not going to please all of the people but it’s about compromise — that’s the way life works — and we’re going to meet as many needs as we can,” said Commissioner Fred Duckwall.

Dave Harlan, port director, said the need to expand Oregon’s private business sector was underscored on Thursday by new figures from Oregon State Economist Tom Potiowsky. Those statistics showed a drop in expected state revenue for the eighth straight quarter. Potiowsky’s May forecast, on which the 2003-05 General Fund budget must be based, came in at $9.76 billion, down 6.2 percent from the March forecast.

“Oregon leads the nation in unemployment and retaining our quality of life also has to include jobs,” Harlan said.

As long-standing arguments over waterfront land-use heat up, Harlan said community members need to be aware that 36.3 of the Port’s 50.9 acres are buildable, with 14.6 acres — 28 percent of the land — in open space. Under the proposed plan, open space would total 50.2 percent.

Harlan said that trail and landscape areas will expand the open space figure under the new planning — which would leave less room for manufacturing firms and light industries that will bring employment opportunities.

“That seems to me to be an entirely reasonable split, it serves the community’s need for recreation and for economic development,” Duckwall said.

Harlan said a grassroots citizen group is contesting a proposal to relocate a park site. He said the port board wants to shift the shoreline park from about four acres on Lot 6 — which would also accommodate some light industry — to the west. That change in plans would place the new park next to the riverside jetty known as the Hook, also reserved for open space, and free up a prime piece of real-estate that could house an upscale motel or other enterprise.

Harlan said the port’s limited inventory of developable parcels is critical in a secondary debate over building heights. For example, he said since the developer must reserve a portion of each property for landscaping, that leaves a sizably smaller area for construction.

If the height of a structure is confined to one or two stories, it restricts the allowable use and drives the selling price down — which opens the door for a structure of less quality. And that leads to lowered tax revenues which, according to Harlan, then makes it difficult to pay for improvements. The port is currently proposing 50 feet at the midpoint of the roofline as the allowable standard. Officials believe that change from the current 45-foot maximum will not impede on the viewshed because of the lower elevation of the waterfront.

Harlan said because so much of the waterfront is already designated as open space, the port wants to minimize river setbacks for development. The public agency has proposed that structures not be built within 50 feet of the shoreline (the Hood River Inn is located at the 45-foot mark), but some citizens want to have that restriction set at between 75-125 feet.

“There’s a larger context to life and I think the waterfront needs to be viewed in that larger context and not in isolation,” Harlan said.

In an effort to learn more about the brewing controversy, the Heights Business Association has requested that the port host an informational work session about the project. The HBA would like to review all aspects of the proposed zoning and has requested that the port also invite city officials, local merchants and economic experts.

“All of us have our own little centers of influence because we interact with so many people and we would like to be able to pass on the right information,” said Brian Shortt, HBA president and owner of Shortt Supply.

Ann Frodel of the group Citizens For Responsible Waterfront Development said, “I think it would be a really good idea to get more public input. That’s what we’ve been asking the Port for as well. It’s long overdue.”

Harlan plans to bring the HBA’s proposal before the port board for consideration.

“We will definitely discuss this idea and then confer with our city partners to see what we can do,” he said.

He reiterated that the waterfront planning process is far from a “done deal.” Harlan said although the port has drawn up a conceptual design for the waterfront, the city has to approve the final zoning at a public hearing.

In addition, Harlan said the port has not yet picked from among six companies that will design the master plan. When that concept is presented, Harlan said the port has set up an Architectural Site Review Committee to scrutinize the final design and help establish covenants and use restrictions to accommodate mixed-use development. During that process, Harlan said that citizens will again be given several opportunities to voice comments and concerns.

“This latest planning effort is the result of 12 years of gathering community input,” said Commissioner Sherry Bohn.

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