City and port draw fire over waterfront zoning effort

January 14

The Hood River City Council and Port of Hood River were accused on Monday of using “backroom dealings” to develop a waterfront zoning plan.

Resident Ken Maddox blasted the two agencies at the city’s public hearing on the Columbia River Mixed Use Zone Ordinance. He wanted the elected body to stop its current review of the draft code so the port could start the entire process over with more citizen involvement.

He also recommended that officials grant the wishes of city voters through the passage of Measure 14-15 and preserve half of the port property along the shoreline for a park.

“The way out of this is the democratic one, not this epic mess,” Maddox said.

Council President Linda Rouches took exception to the accusation made by Maddox. She reminded him that dozens of well advertised meetings had taken place during more than three years of effort between the two agencies to finalize the current plan.

“When all of those meetings were publicized in the paper then why didn’t you come?” asked Rouches.

Three other residents joined Maddox in the request that Ordinance 1851 be tabled or withdrawn altogether. They contended that no zoning decisions should be made until the city was also ready to address the issue of the proposed park.

“I think the entire waterfront area has to be looked at as one complete whole,” said Brian Robb.

Mayor Paul Cummings issued several strong reminders that the Jan. 12 hearing centered only on the 21.82 acres of port property south of Portway Avenue.

He said it was not appropriate to discuss the 21.7 acres north of that roadway since the park approved by voters had been removed from the review process. In mid-December the city decided to proceed with public hearings only on the area around the potential park until legal and procedural challenges had been resolved.

Meanwhile the port, as the landowner, is seeking legal clarification on the constitutionality of the new policy. The agency contests the downzone of light industrial property to green space without monetary compensation.

In addition, the port believes the measure addressed two issues instead of the single proposal allowed under the Oregon Constitution. The 2,970 city voters were asked not only to approve the park but also a condition that allowed existing buildings to remain only as long as their current operation continued.

Procedural questions over the initiative sponsored by the Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development are also being brought before the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Oregonians in Action, a property rights advocacy group, has joined the port in its request for LUBA scrutiny of the measure. The OIA is representing Luhr Jensen, a waterfront business that is concerned about its ability to continue operations under the new policy if the market demands a change in product lines.

The port wants to know if the passage of the measure is valid since the majority of its constituents live in outlying areas and were not allowed to mark their ballots. Both the OIA and port argue that the city cannot be asked by popular vote to set a policy that circumvents the state land-use process that is based on the findings and conclusions of law.

The four residents testifying at Monday’s hearing reminded the city council that Measure 14-16 had passed by a 54 percent margin. They said the will of the people should not be ignored and that it was impossible to separate the two sectors of land for zoning consideration because their uses would be “interconnected.”

“It was a landslide victory and though the port seems to be looking to find a loophole to get out of it, it’s crystal clear what the citizens want,” said Brian Carlstrom.

However, councilor Charles Haynie questioned how the park could be funded without strengthening the tax base by developing around its fringes.

“In what way does moving forward with zoning of land that wasn’t in the initiative disrespect the public?” he asked.

Robb agreed that it would be appropriate for the city to proceed with the current zoning review if it also submitted to the wishes of voters.

Five more of the 18 citizens in attendance were unable to speak on Monday because of time constraints. To accommodate further public testimony Cummings suspended the hearing until 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, in the municipal courtroom at the corner of Second and State streets.

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