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Planning Commission okays HOPE project on West May

By JANET COOK

News staff writer

December 16, 2006

The Hood River Planning Commission on Tuesday night approved an amendment to an application by HOusing for PEople, Inc. (HOPE) for additional housing units on West May Street.

An initial application by HOPE for 24 homes on a 3.6 acre parcel on May Street west of 30th Street was approved by the planning commission in 2005. But HOPE determined that the project would not be viable for the nonprofit organization that seeks to provide low-income and workforce housing in Hood River County.

“Since 2005 the cost of development in materials and labor has gone up more than 30 percent,” said Richard Sassara, executive director of HOPE. The organization sought an amendment to add 14 more homes to the development, which will be a “mixed” community of workforce housing, which HOPE plans to sell to eligible residents for about $180,000 per home, and market rate homes. Profit from the sale of the market rate homes will help subsidize the workforce homes.

All the homes in the development will be similar bungalow-style dwellings of approximately 1,400 square feet.

After several hours of testimony both for and against the amendment, the planning commission voted 5-1 in favor of the amendment. Commission member John Herron voted against it and one commission member was absent.

Neighbors of nearby Rocky Road and Rocky Ridge Court, most of whom approved of the project of 24 homes, voiced a variety of concerns about the amendment ranging from the increased density to design elements to access to the open space on the property.

“I want to get behind this project, but I have problems with it,” said Andrew McElderry, a Rocky Road resident and local business owner. “A 58 percent increase in density — that’s huge.” He also was concerned that HOPE had not provided enough solid information about how the final development would look.

“There’s not enough information to make a decision,” he said.

Several community members, HOPE board members and potential buyers of the workforce houses voiced their support for the project.

“When we talk about workforce housing, we’re talking about people who work for the hospital, people who work for the school district, people who work for the county,” said Gary Young, HOPE board president. “These are people who increasingly find they can’t afford to live here.”

Becki Rawson, who has been an emergency room nurse at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital for 18 years, spoke as a citizen in favor of the project.

“The ability to do my job is dependent on a diverse team of people,” she said. “If people can’t afford to live here, they can’t fill the jobs that take care of you.

“I’m not making this up,” she added. “It’s a very real concern.”

Sassara said HOPE is happy with the outcome of what became a lengthy process. He said the organization plans to break ground on the project as soon as possible in the spring.

Young concurred.

“I am just excited that the planning commission has approved the application,” he said. “It really is a sign that this community needs to move into workforce housing, and this is a real start for that.”

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