The Hood River City Council has stopped work on an ordinance for mixed-use zoning of the waterfront until some key questions can be answered.
The elected body is hoping to find a “compromise” that will grant voter demand for a large park without bringing legal liability for the downzoning of property. Officials are also pondering whether to propose a bond levy that will ask city taxpayers to pay for development of green space and public facilities.
“I don’t think the citizens intended to pass a policy that would result in the city being liable for takings,” said Councilor Charles Haynie. “Somebody’s got to put up a bond issue and then the rubber will meet the road.”
On Monday, council members said they had clearly heard the strong message delivered by voters in last week’s passage of Measure 14-16. The ballot initiative brought out 54 percent of the 2,970 registered voters living within the city limits. The park proposal sponsored by the Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development was favored by a 67 percent margin, with 1,081 voters in support and 522 opposed. The new policy requires the city to establish a public park on land owned by the Port of Hood River from the riverside jetty known as the Hook to the site referred to as the Boat Basin and from the water’s edge to the centerline of Portway Avenue. The first hearing on the Columbia River Mixed-Use Ordinance was slated to take place at the Nov. 10 meeting but was stopped by the council’s action. The City Planning Commission had recommended at least a six-acre park and the council felt that proposal came close to meeting the citizens’ request.
“Maybe we can ‘tweak’ it (ordinance) enough to somehow comply with the intent of the referendum. I don’t know if that’s possible but I think there’s been a lot of work done by a lot of people on this ordinance and it just seems to be a shame to throw it all away,” said Lynn Guenther, city manager.
For the past three years, Mayor Paul Cummings and Councilors Linda Rouches and Haynie have worked with port officials on a joint waterfront task force. Their goal was to facilitate a working relationship between the two agencies that would prevent a reoccurrence of conflicts over zoning that surfaced during a previous planning effort that began in 1994 and was tabled in 1999.
“Now, instead of having some development down there in two to three years it could be a decade before we get anything going again,” said Cummings.
He said the city was respectful of the voter’s choice but had been put into a “Catch-22” situation. Cummings said the city was faced with a potential challenge if it did not implement an unfunded park policy — but could be sued if it did. The officials were also concerned about language in the ballot summary that allowed buildings such as Luhr Jensen and Sons to remain standing on land leased from the port only as long as their existing operations were in place.
Alexandra Sosnkowski, city attorney, told the council that the clock was ticking on the decision to either implement, ignore or reject the new policy altogether on the grounds that land-use issues cannot be decided by the initiative process. The measure is expected to go into effect about Dec. 24 and Sosnkowski urged the officials to make a choice by that date. She said the city did not face potential liability from adopting the policy — only when it tried to enforce it. Sosnkowski said there had been court rulings on both sides of the issue and she felt the definitive answer on the reach of citizen initiatives would have to come from the state Supreme Court.
“The bottom line is that you need to make the decision from a political standpoint and I will be able to support whatever you decide,” Sosnkowski said.