WATERFRONT Port wants city staff to cease ‘bully pulpit’

City manager states no

‘hidden agenda’ is at work


News staff writer

July 30, 2005

Two Hood River Port Commissioners expressed frustration on Tuesday that citizen activists appear to be using the passage of two illegal ballot measures as a “bully pulpit” against city officials.

Port board members expressed the view on Tuesday that it was time to cease giving ground every time city officials changed course on waterfront planning. Their frustration centered on a recent proposal by the city planning commission. The advisory body, in the view of port board members, is seeking to ban most development along the shoreline in favor of increased riparian protection.

Bob Francis, city manager, said it is important for everyone, including the port, to realize that the planning commission does not have the last word on the issue. He said that no matter what opinion the planning commission renders, the council has the final say. He added that the controversial suggestion for compliance with state Goal 5 resource protection rules will be reviewed by the council on Aug. 8 in a public hearing.

“Whatever recommendations come forward from staff and the commission, the buck stops with the council,” said Francis.

However, suspicion has also been raised by the port that city planners are playing a role in the ongoing citizen movement to convert the waterfront into a large park. The elected body believes, based on documented materials, that staffers and the planning commission could be steering waterfront zoning in that direction.

An election message —

According to port board members, anytime it looks as though there is going to be a resolution that accommodates development, some new regulatory roadblock appears. And then the agency is expected to make a concession that further erodes its ability to utilize land for a business base.

“We have done a lot of things in good faith but this has not been a compromise situation since we’re the ones making all of the compromises,” said Commissioner Fred Duckwall.

He and Commissioner Don Hosford believe their respective margins of victory in the May election should send city officials and citizens alike a clear message. They said voter results underscore the need for a different mind-set about waterfront planning.

Duckwall beat challenger Dr. Lars Bergstrom with 2,629 votes to 1,657. Hosford captured 2,529 votes to Cory Roeseler’s 1,722. Therefore, the two elected officials contend the port’s constituency, which extends from Parkdale to Wyeth, has spoken loud and clear. They both ran their respective campaigns in favor of limiting the park to six acres to accommodate development.

Conversely, Roeseler and Bergstrom advocated that the “will of the people” in a failed initiative be followed to preserve all of the property north of Portway Avenue for a park. Measure 14-16 had been approved by city voters but was later determined by the state Land Use Board of Appeals to be illegal because it circumvented the statutory process for rezones.

A second referendum, Measure 14-22, sought to overturn a custom waterfront plan for Goal 5 protection on the waterfront. It also was determined to be illegal by the Attorney General’s office for the same reason. The planning commission had subsequently been asked by the city council to revisit Goal 5 in order to ensure that natural resources were adequately preserved.

Since the ballot issues were brought solely before city residents for approval, Hosford and Duckwall believe the election outcome would have been different if all of their constituents had been given a voice.

“The vocal folks put up their best candidates and Fred and I smoked them. The silent majority that I represent is getting tired of the vocal minority running the show down there (city hall),” said Hosford. “These were illegal votes (the ballot measures) and there’s no mandate to have open space down here. I’m hoping the city council takes a closer look at this.”

The issue sparking that discussion was the city planning commission’s recent move to halt most new development within 100 feet of the Columbia River shoreline. The city’s senior planner, Jennifer Donnelly, informed both the port and city council that the commission had factored into its decision the successful passage of both ballot measures. The planning panel’s action veered away from the custom plan designed last year by the city and port, in cooperation with the state.

The specialized Goal 5 riparian protection standards for the waterfront were approved by the Department of Land Conservation and Development. These guidelines followed an allowable exception process for areas such as the port property, which is largely made up of fill material with rip-rap banks.

Marina setback? —

The plan prohibited development within 50 feet from the embankment to the Columbia River 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 protected riparian zone because they believed it had little natural habitat, 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.

“We spent $43,000 for that study and the state signed off on it. There’s no reason to change the results. There is absolutely no reason,” said Duckwall on Tuesday.

The planning commissioners, applauded by citizen activists, have defended their recommendation as a “very balanced” approach. The advisory body wants a uniform setback to stretch from the Hook to just east of the Hood River Inn. Within that protected border, some development would be allowed on the mostly industrial and commercial properties after a 75-foot setback. However, that development would require a conditional use permit and usage could be strictly controlled.

The port board believes the commission’s recommendation runs counter to the intent of the council. This spring, Mayor Linda Rouches joined Port President Sherry Bohn in a published statement to announce that waterfront planning would not be based on a “one size fits all” approach. They affirmed that both agencies were committed to creating not only recreational opportunities, but job possibilities as well.

Harlan said in recent weeks he and Francis have had several positive discussions about how the two agencies can work better together. He expressed optimism at the July 26 meeting that disparities in viewpoints could be overcome with continued conversation. However, Harlan said it will be difficult to improve the relationship between the city and port without a check on staffers and the planning commission.

For example, he said another point of contention is the planning commission’s proposal that the Goal 5 setback be measured from the top of the Hood and Columbia river embankments. Port Attorney Jerry Jaques said Oregon law mandates that Goal 5 protection begin at the high water mark, which shaves about 20 feet off the commission’s recommendation. Jaques said that information was passed onto Donnelly at the onset of the Goal 5 review process.

In fact, Jaques is concerned that the proposed new setback could be great enough to interfere with the construction of a new vehicle bridge spanning the Hood River. And that could raise the accident potential from traffic backups as motorists continue entering and exiting the freeway at exits 63 and 64 to get around the area. The situation has been identified as a public safety concern by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

A zoning ‘agenda’? —

Harlan said it also appears that city staff used the recent regrading and regraveling of the Spit parking lot to pursue another zoning agenda. Minutes from the April 13 planning commission meeting reflect Donnelly commenting that the city should initiate a rezone to open space of the Hook, the small island in the eastern portion of the Hook, and both sides of the Spit.

Harlan said that request would legally have to come from the landowner, but the city appears to have used recent primitive improvements at the Spit to justify an enforcement action — for both locations.

“Control on a property that isn’t being rezoned is simply not proper. I find that tremendously problematic and I think we need to acknowledge that sort of thing might have been going on for a long while,” said Harlan.

Francis plans to investigate the matter further but does not believe there is any hidden agenda at work. He reiterated that, regardless of staff findings, only the city council has the authority to make a final decision on any proposal.

“I think any comments that Jennifer made were meant to be innocuous and do not speak for the council. I think the planning staff sometimes gets put between a rock and a hard place since the planning commission does what it believes is best for the city — but that is sometimes totally in opposition to the task given them by the council. But the bottom line is that, while the commission and staff may each have an opinion on something, they are not the decision makers,” Francis said.

By next week, the port will deliver a letter to the city council that highlights its concerns. Included in the posting will be a list of projects the port has willingly undertaken by city request. That list will include renovation of the old Diamond Fruit Cannery, donation of land for the Columbia Street parking lot, granting six acres for a shoreline park, and bestowal of property for the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The port wants to highlight not only its long history of stewardship, but its “visionary” approach for long-term planning.

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