By SUE RYAN
News staff writer
January 17, 2007
Fighting has broken out once again over plans for the McCoy property in Cascade Locks.
The city council voted unanimously at its Jan. 8 meeting to recuse itself from hearing an appeal of a decision by the Cascade Locks planning commission that was set for Jan. 22. The vote also allows the decision of the planning commission to stand although it may be appealed in civil court or to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
Recusal is a legal term in which a judge or decision-making body removes itself from a judicial or quasi-judicial process.
The decision involved a site plan review for the property, which the city sold last year. Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation of The Dalles bought the property in July.
What the planning commission approved on Nov. 30 were two proposals. The agency builds affordable housing projects throughout the Gorge. CCHC wanted to develop 30 residential units for the site. They also suggested an alternative 24-unit plan. The difference in plans was due to a half-acre discrepancy when surveyors found the property short of the parcel the city had advertised for sale.
CCHC wanted the city to sell them another half-acre of land from the adjoining Toothrock Park for the 30-site plan. If that wasn’t approved, the alternative plan was designed to fit the smaller area.
The plans have sparked controversy among town residents, which has been split over the sale. Stan Bowyer organized a recall last fall that resulted in the removal of two city councilors by voters on Nov. 7. Planning Commission Chairwoman Lynne Kononen resigned Dec. 11 due to the issue. Bowyer and Gary Munkhoff filed an appeal of the planning commission decision Dec. 18.
“We filed the appeal because we felt they broke a lot of the development code,” Munkhoff said.
They had issues with CCHC having an apartment complex in and access to the project.
City councilor Darrell Driver said that they debated the potential legal challenges presented by CCHC as to the city council’s ability to provide a fair hearing.
The document, prepared by attorney Timothy J. Sercombe of Portland law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Preston, Gates and Ellis, stated that CCHC was concerned it would not receive a fair hearing and had the right to remove the case to Hood River County Circuit Court.
He asked the council to consider the issue and whether the appeal was justified. Sercombe cited three bases for disqualification of city council members including an “actual conflict of interest,” bias, and ex parte communications on the issue.
“Finally, there has been a great deal of meetings, conversations and contacts with the council members outside of the record of the site plan proceedings,” Sercombe wrote. “The parties are entitled to a decision on the appeal based solely upon the file record.”
However, many of the incidents Sercombe cited took place from July to November of 2006 and many of the councilors he said would have conflicts of interest did not take office until 2007.
Driver said the potential conflicts of interest whether real or perceived were one factor behind the council’s decision and the possibility of the city being potentially liable for legal costs in civil court were another factor. Munkhoff said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.
“I think they did the citizens of Cascade Locks a disservice by not having the hearing in some way,” he said.
Munkhoff said he and Bowyer plan to file an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals.