Port takes waterfront issue to court

Officials contend that new measure violates two Oregon state constitutional laws

The Hood River Port Commission has decided to legally challenge a citizen initiative to rezone a large sector of the waterfront as a public park.

Officials believe that action is necessary to protect the financial interests of their constituents. Although Measure 14-16 was approved on Nov. 4 by city voters, the port district extends from Parkdale to Wyeth and citizens in outlying areas were not given the opportunity to mark their ballots on the issue.

The port intends to file an action in Circuit Court to interpret the effect of the initiative sponsored by the Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development. The elected body wants a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the new policy which downzones the property from industrial use to green space without monetary compensation. The port also contends that the measure addressed two issues instead of the single proposal allowed under the Oregon Constitution. Voters were asked not only to approve the park but a condition that allowed existing buildings to remain only as long as their current operation continued.

In addition to seeking a court ruling, the port is asking the state Land Use Board of Appeals to address several procedural questions. Officials believe that allowing property use to be regulated by a popular vote could eventually overturn the existing state system that is based on the findings and conclusions of law.

“This parallel action with LUBA, in view of the fiduciary responsibility of the port to protect its assets, is an action that will hopefully provide clarity to both the port and the Hood River City Council so that we can jointly move forward,” said Commissioner Bill Lyons during Tuesday’s public deliberation.

Port President Don Hosford said as a public body established by Oregon law, the port must follow the legal and land-use framework set up by the state. The commission believes that, because of that responsibility, it must seek legal help to deal with an issue that raises so many questions.

“Seeking legal clarity is a responsible act, not an adversarial act aimed at the city,” said Hosford.

He said reports that the port has filed an action against the city are erroneous, that all proceedings are occurring at the state level. He said having the answers to the existing questions about the new policy that goes into effect on Dec. 17 should help both public entities determine how to move ahead.

Lynn Guenther, city manager, said the port’s decision to take its concerns to court and LUBA are not viewed negatively by city officials. In fact, he said that addressing these issues will “further an already good working relationship” between the two entities.

“In no way is this viewed as a suit against the city and citizens of Hood River,” said Guenther. “It’s quite apparent that there is a question as to the legality of using an initiative process for land-use decisions and it seems appropriate that the port, as the landowner, would seek clarity on that question.”

Meanwhile, the Hood River County Commission is awaiting the ruling of another state agency on the legality of Measure 14-15 which also changes the existing land-use process. The passage of that initiative sends a referendum to the voters every time the county renders a decision on a development of 25 or more houses or overnight units in a forest zone. However, Will Carey, county counsel, said the measure could bypass Oregon’s strict rules regarding quasi-judicial decisions related to development of property. The new ordinance went into effect on Thursday and has been forwarded by the county for review by the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

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