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Panel wants larger setback

Commission recommends ban on most development within 100 feet of Columbia

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News editor

July 13, 2005

The Hood River City Planning Commission wants to stop most new development at the waterfront from taking place within 100 feet of the Columbia River shoreline.

“We felt that this was a very balanced approach. We felt that good economic development can take place with these guidelines. We also felt that fisheries are very important to the health of the Columbia River and that a uniform approach would be much easier to administer,” said Jurgen Hess, commission chair.

Following last week’s public hearing on the state Goal 5 rule for riparian preservation, the commission came up with that recommendation.

The advisory body is asking the City Council to sign off on its intent to limit development from the Hook to just east of the Hood River Inn.

Within that protection border, some development is allowed to occur on the mostly industrial and commercial properties after a 75-foot setback. However, that development would require a conditional use permit to control the usage.

Most ground disturbing activities would be prohibited within the larger Goal 5 zone, although trails, landscaping and “park-like features” are allowed.

The commission veered away from a custom Goal 5 plan developed last year by the city in cooperation with the Port of Hood River and the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Although that plan was adopted, it was successfully challenged by city voters in a March referendum.

However, the Oregon attorney general’s office rendered the opinion that its passage was illegal since land-use decisions cannot be made by popular vote.

The former Goal 5 plan took into consideration that the waterfront is largely made up of fill material with rip-rap banks. Under the exception to the standard state rule, development was prohibited within 50 feet from the top of the embankment to the Columbia between the Event Site and the Hook. And any construction that occurred within the next 25 feet was required to have three times the allowable size in riparian enhancement. Officials left the Marina without a designated riparian zone because they believed it was already largely built-out, flanked by commercial enterprises and provided for social needs within the community — also factored into the Goal 5 exception process.

“The planning commission imposed a significantly different plan for Goal 5 than we had originally agreed upon,” said senior planner Jennifer Donnelly during Monday’s briefing of the city council.

When the city shelved the Columbia River Mixed Use Zone Ordinance in April, officials asked staffers and the commission to review the Goal 5 plan. Since protection measures had been designed to accommodate the proposed changes in land-use, officials wanted to ensure that riparian areas along the Hook and Hood River were still adequately preserved.

Since the commission took that task beyond the original mandate, Donnelly wanted to provide elected officials with background about how that decision was reached.

In a follow-up interview, Hess said the commission agreed with Donnelly that it would be difficult to monitor any mitigation measures under the former customized plan. The city does not have a resource specialist on staff, so the commission did not believe that mitigation would be adequately enforced.

“Mitigation does not have a track record of working because, when dealing with riparian and wetland areas, it takes a long, long time to re-establish areas. It’s very complicated and there are few successes,” said Hess, founder of the Columbia Gorge Institute, a conservation organization.

But dissenters of the commission’s recommendation claim that it fulfills the goal of citizen activists to turn the waterfront into a large public park.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Linda Rouches said that she had been approached by residents and several port commissioners with that concern. However, Donnelly reminded Rouches and the council that the Goal 5 issue was in the middle of a legislative process. And that they would preside over a public hearing on Aug. 8 before rendering a verdict on the proposed new setback.

Port President Sherry Bohn declined to comment on the commission’s recommendation with the public hearing process still underway.

“It’s a recommendation and we’ll continue to work with the city to try to resolve the issues,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Preserve the Waterfront political action committee is ecstatic about the new Goal 5 recommendation. That group successfully spearheaded the controversial referendum and strongly supports the commission’s action.

Brent Foster, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, which supported the measure, said Washington State had 250-foot buffers in place along the Columbia and many cities, including Portland, maintained 100- foot setbacks. He said Hood River should follow suit in order to protect its two fish-bearing rivers at the waterfront.

“This is not a matter of protecting rip-rap, it’s really a matter of ensuring that you don’t have parking lots or other things on the shoreline that are going to affect the river quality,” said Foster.

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