City Council changes stance on controversial W. Sherman housing

In a move that surprised a group of Sherman Avenue residents on Tuesday, the Hood River City Council reversed its earlier denial of a condo development.

“What is most amazing in this decision is that a very similar proposal was presented to these same Councilors almost two years ago and they turned it down unanimously,” said resident Larry Blackburn.

His neighbor, Pat Ball, expects to lose between $40,000-$50,000 in value when her view is blocked and her privacy taken away by a “massive” building just feet from her northern property line.

But Alan Blanchard, owner/developer of the commercially zoned land, said he no longer expects to make any money from the project. He said a Hood River resident “hoodwinked” him into buying the 2.5 acres and he is now just trying to cut his losses.

“This process has to be viewed as something more than that the neighbors don’t like it so it’s not going to happen,” said Peter Livingston, Blanchard’s attorney.

At issue is the conditional use permit granted on Oct. 14 for 12 townhouses to be built by South Gorge Development on the hillside above the Cascade Commons shopping center. A similar application — 14 units that were 43 feet tall but narrower — was denied in November of 2001 because the elected officials believed the large structures would adversely affect the liveability of the neighborhood. That application had been approved by the City Planning Commission, who narrowly agreed that the townhouses would be sited on a “transition parcel.” The Planning Commission contended the development would provide a natural break between commercial properties and the residential sector.

In a twist, last month the Planning Commission denied the revised design, which included a change in roof pitch and slightly lowered heights on several of the units. Their decision included the fact that although some of the condos would not be as tall, they would be wider. The officials said a “wall effect” was still being created by the townhouses that were two stories in addition to a garage on the ground floor.

At Tuesday’s appeal hearing the Council informed the concerned residents that the development was a good fit for the area. In addition, Council Members said the commercial property could house an apartment complex under the existing allowable uses. Blackburn said those same arguments had already been aired in the 2001 hearings but had not affected the Council’s decision at that time.

The attitude shift of the elected body toward the project was evidenced by comments from Councilors Linda Rouches and Andrea Klaas. In 2001, Rouches vetoed the development proposal after saying, “This neighborhood is going to be significantly impacted financially and I think a homeowner has a right to have their investment protected.” At that time Klaas also said, “The homes along Sherman Avenue are definitely some of the most desirable properties in Hood River right now and it would have a significant financial impact to have their view blocked.”

However, on Tuesday Rouches told opponents of the project that the city could not protect their view corridor and that the situation could be worse. Before she spoke, Hood River resident Charlie Warren, representing South Gorge, had reminded the Council that the current zoning would also allow a commercial building of up to 45 feet high.

“This might be this community’s last chance to have a low density development,” Rouches said.

Klaas reiterated on Oct. 14 that the state favored construction of higher density housing in urban areas and said, “I think the developer is trying very hard to work with property owners.”

Councilor Charles Haynie summed up the opinions expressed by the elected officials when he said, “It’s tough on a neighborhood when there’s change but I have to agree that I think it could be a whole lot worse.”

Blackburn said it seemed contrary for these issues to “suddenly” become the heart of the recent discussion on the project.

“It is my belief that this was already a done deal for some unknown political reason,” he said.

Blackburn said the neighbors didn’t even win their request that the “shed” roofs proposed in the revised plans be retained. The Council has agreed that South Gorge can possibly resurrect plans for the “pitched” styles presented in the first application. The officials have directed that mitigation measures be ironed out with planning staffers. Blackburn said the neighbors will weigh the cost before determining whether to take the issue before the State Land Use Board of Appeals.

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