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Council tied up: Riparian zone still runs through hotel

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

October 14, 2006

Tom Stevenson listened to the Hood River City Council and citizens wrangle for two hours over the riparian zone running through his hotel lobby on Tuesday — and then he left the room in frustration.

“The whole time that we were negotiating this Goal 5 ordinance, we were told that it was all about protecting wildlife habitat. But when they (city) took away the ability to mitigate any development it became clear that this is really a no-build zone,” he said.

Stevenson said it is disheartening to spend time and money over a state planning rule that is no longer even mandated. At the Oct. 10 hearing, Councilor Paul Cummings revealed that the Department of Land Conservation and Development no longer requires enactment of Goal 5 regulations because “it didn’t work; it was really a problem.”

“The only reason we ended up having to comply with it was that we accepted a grant to do this study,” said Cummings. “We were hog-tied because they (DLCD) put us under a timeline and we didn’t have the money ($30,000) to give back.”

Stevenson said the reluctance of city officials to remove the riparian corridor from his building also raises an issue of fairness. He said only two private properties have been affected by the city’s plan to protect habitat along the heavily recreated waterfront.

One is the inn and the other is the industrial building that formerly housed Nichols Boat Works. That parcel has been unused for years and is located on a natural bank along the Boat Basin. Stevenson said, other than property taxes, the defunct business does not provide the city with a job base or revenue. However, the city council allows development to occur on that land right up to the water’s edge.

Meanwhile, he said the Hood River Inn, which has set atop a rip-rap bank for 40 years, provides continuous employment for 165 people. In addition, about $500,000 is paid into the city coffers every year through utility fees and both property and lodging taxes. Stevenson said the average guest also spends about $150 per day in town during his/her stay.

In January the city imposed a uniform 75-foot setback along the length of Columbia River shoreline under its jurisdiction. That move placed the Inn’s Riverside Grill and its outside deck, the northern section of CEBU Bamboo Lounge and the north-facing rooms along the west wing in a riparian protection corridor. This prohibited almost all ground-breaking activities.

That has meant Stevenson could no longer build an indoor pool at the eastern end of the building. Or add a few new rooms to keep up with market demands for a convention center/resort. In addition, he could not expand the current dock to provide more parking for boaters.

“This is not only inequitable, it is discriminatory and inconsistent,” he said.

He said all of the uses stated above were allowed when the city adopted its first Goal 5 plan in 2005. According to Stevenson, city staffers had been made aware of his future development plans. So, he was not expecting the drastic turnaround in regulations and, subsequently, didn’t get actively involved in the process until it was too late.

“I just would never have guessed they’d go in this direction,” Stevenson said.

He said the city’s original Goal 5 plan exempted the Inn property as wildlife habitat because the grounds were almost fully developed and provided social and economic gains for the community.

However, Stevenson said the customized concept changed after citizen activists mounted opposition to stop any development from occurring north of Portway Avenue. They successfully brought a referendum before voters in 2005 that demanded a 200-foot swath of protection along the entire shoreline.

Although the measure passed, it was determined by the Attorney General’s office to be illegal because it circumvented state statutes for the rezoning of property.

However, the city planning commission factored the will of the voters into its decision that year to impose a 100-foot boundary. In early 2006, the city council decided that a good “compromise” would be imposition of the 75-foot setback.

Stevenson then told the city that he would file both a Measure 37 claim and an appeal with the state if the setback was not reduced. The matter has been under negotiation for months and both staffers and Stevenson agreed on a 21-foot setback, which matched the corner of the building closest to the embankment.

Stevenson felt that was more than fair on his part since the Inn’s property extends at least 100 feet into the Columbia River. And, up until the city intervened, the business was allowed to extend development over the water with approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We gave up a lot here. So, I guess the bottom line is that if they can only live with a no-build zone, then we can only live with a 21-foot setback,” he said. “I have to keep asking myself, however, why we are even in this position.”

On Tuesday, the council was split about how to proceed on Stevenson’s request for a setback reduction. Councilors Ann Frodel, Laurent Picard and Paul Blackburn were hesitant to proceed due to concerns about further development of the site. Mayor Linda Streich joined Cummings and Councilor Carrie Nelsen in the belief that the Inn had been “good neighbors” and needed its economic rights protected.

Stevenson ended the lengthy discussion by withdrawing his application for an amendment to Goal 5. He is unsure about how to best protect his business interests and plans to spend the next week reviewing his options.

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