By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
Two Hood River agencies have agreed to change course on waterfront planning to meet the growing need for property to expand the existing business base.
On Monday, the city council stopped work on the Columbia River Mixed Use Zone, an abrupt end to more than 10 years of public debate and controversy.
The decision to pull Ordinance 1851 followed a request by the port commission that the existing light industrial zoning be retained on waterfront lands. The port now wants to design a master plan that uses a parcel-by-parcel approach for development.
That decision followed the relocation of several local companies, coupled with the inability to attract new firms, due to a lack of “shovel ready” sites in the county.
“1851 is a still a good document. I’m in favor of pulling it in favor of recommending that the port use it as a guideline as they are planning,” said Mayor Linda Rouches.
Both the city council and port commission agree that development of a public park on Lot 6 needs to proceed as planned. In fact, a newly appointed joint committee is already forging ahead on a grant application in hopes of scoring up to $500,000 in state funds for improvements.
However, the two agencies have not yet finalized an agreement that sets out standards for park development and a timeline that must be reached for completion. The property will not be deeded by the port over to the city until all of these conditions have been set out in writing.
“I think the best thing we can do right now is to get funding for the park, get it turned over and get it developed,” said Councilor A.J. Kitt.
Port authorities believe that 1851, as written, could cost the community needed jobs if companies are forced to move for expansion. For example, Homeshield — which is now located in the former Western Power building — will soon be relocating to either The Dalles or Dallesport in Washington. The window and door manufacturing plant set up shop at the waterfront in late 2003 but now needs larger facilities.
The problem that is driving Homeshield from Hood River is that little industrial land is ready to build on at a competitive price. Scott Bennett, general manager, stated in January that the company had not even considered staying at the waterfront because of the potential political and legal issues that might arise from development of an 80,000 square-foot facility — with potential expansion of up to 160,000 square feet. He said dealing with challenges from opponents would detract from Homeshield’s first goal — taking care of its customers.
The port wants to eliminate that challenge by creating a new plan for the waterfront that will largely eliminate the potential for housing. The allowance for residences under 1851 drew some of the sharpest complaints from citizen activists. The port is expected to complete preliminary design work on the new plan to better accommodate businesses within the next few months.
“There is a new reality for our community and this property, which has sat there for decades, could now be more important as industrial land. I think the port just wants to step back and take a look at using that property in a different way,” said Rouches.
The city decided to heed the port’s request to pull 1851 only if an agreement can be reached that factors in elements of the mixed-use zone.
The city wants the port’s master planning process to address variable building heights to prevent any singular wall of construction, establish a view corridor from Second Street and a pathway along the entire shoreline.
In addition, the council wants to ensure that a 75-foot setback is in place for riparian protection near the Columbia River and that wetlands along the Hood River and the riverside jetty known as the Hook are preserved.
However, those conditions were some of the primary areas of contention in the latest waterfront planning effort. Last December, William Smith, a Bend developer interested in a Hood River waterfront project, said these areas needed to be further defined in 1851 or it would be open to almost endless challenge.
The port will review the city’s latest list of conditions at its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Expo Center.