Design by committee: waterfront plan stalled in mid-1990s

This is part three of the Hood River News’ look back at the history of the Hood River waterfront.

In the early nineties, the Port of Hood River and City of Hood River recognized an evolution of the area’s economy and uses for the waterfront, and initiated a waterfront planning process to rezone the area to adapt to a mixture of land use needs. No one could have predicted that the process would last a decade or more.

The process began in January 1994, with an agreement between the city and the port to create a Waterfront Advisory Committee and put restrictions on future development for the next two years.

A month later the Waterfront Advisory Committee was born, made up of representatives from both agencies as well as citizen representatives who together would evaluate the community’s needs and make recommendations to the decision-making bodies.

The expectation was that by the end of two years the port and city would have adopted a Port of Hood River Waterfront Plan, and that the city would have adopted zoning designations and ordinances consistent with the plan within 180 days after that.

The agreement that created the Waterfront Advisory Committee specified that the area they were concerned with was that area west of the Hood River to the Hook and north of the freeway to the Columbia.

It did not include the marina area, which had its own committee. During the time the WAC was putting together their vision statement and objectives, the port attempted to move forward with plans for commercial development of the Columbia Gorge Sailpark.

The port was considering a motel for the area just west of the port offices, where the green now used as a soccer field stands, and possibly a fast food restaurant for the port entryway area. Public opposition to this idea was swift and vehement. The plan was scrapped when legal issues were raised concerning the port’s authority to lease property for lodging purposes.

By the end of 1994 the Waterfront Advisory Committee had put together a vision statement outlining their overall goals.

Several months later they had come up with a list of objectives that covered more practical matters such as funding and zoning. In July of 1995, after 16 months of working together, they had a master plan to recommend to the city and port. The public was given several chances to view this plan and provide input.

During the time the plan was being formed and for the next couple of years, various issues were raised and debated, involving the Hook area, fast food restaurant proposals, houseboats, windsurfing schools, and a major motel project, and usually came out in a three-way tie between the city, port, and advisory committee.

Various groups weighed in along the way, such as the Valley Residents Committee, Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, Recreation 2020 Business Group, Hood River County Business Roundtable.

In July of 1998 a new waterfront park panel was created, made up of representatives from city, port, county and citizens, to focus on development of the vacant parcels 6 and 7A, which had by this time become hotly contested lots. The port wanted four small commercial lots and two short access lots in this area. The city wanted 2/3 open space and 1/3 light industrial. Many members of the public wanted the entire space left open.

The panel came up with three design proposals for the area, each of which had extensive park area and presented them to the public and then to the city and port.

At about this point there was a slight change in the makeup of the port commission, which affected the course of the waterfront planning for the next few years.

Oct. 25 issue — Starting in 1999 with the demise of the Waterfront Hotel project, development was put on hold until a joint agreement between the Port and the City of Hood River could be reached.

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