For those Hood River Heights residents and businesses that have longed for a fresher, more functional feel to their neighborhood, the future is becoming a little brighter.
On July 25, the Hood River City Council voted unanimously to accept the consultant-prepared planning document as the guideline for the Heights Urban Renewal District 20-year development process.
Charged with implementing a tax sharing plan designed to fund improvements for streets, lighting, sidewalks, parks, building façades and infrastructure such as storm drains and sewers, the Heights UR agency will now be able to move forward.
"A good showing" of citizens filled the city council meeting to provide comment, support and some opposition to the proposal, according to City Manager Bob Francis.
Clarification was once again provided by Francis and other city representatives in both the city council packet and in their responses during the meeting, outlining details on how the tax-restructuring process worked for property owners in the area.
One voiced concern focused on whether taxes might increase. According to presentation materials, Urban Renewal Districts do not increase taxes but rather create a new tax-sharing structure within existing tax rates. As property values rise naturally, the increased returns are then shifted for use on UR projects for a period of 20 years.
Several local business owners detailed their support of the project, including Tony White of Farmers Insurance, who also currently chairs the Heights Business Association.
"We feel that with the overall economy right now, this is a logical, cost-effective way to proceed with improvements on the Heights," said White in a later phone interview.
"We don't want to look identical to the downtown area, but we do want the streetscape to reflect the same pride of ownership. The HBA is in favor of adopting this plan," he said.
Eric Smith, of Alan- Smith Insurance and owner of a large new building along 13th Street, reportedly expressed concerns that the HBA did not represent all of the businesses in the area. According to Francis, Smith also noted that he had not received advance information on the proposal.
Francis responded that a super notice was sent to all residents within the city of Hood River and that information has been posted on the City's website for several months. The News has also run two front-page articles on the process.
Although not changing the wording of the adopted plan, the July 21 planning committee made two additional recommendations for the Heights UR district.
The first advised the city to develop design standards for façade renovations within the district. The second acknowledged that it might be necessary to make property purchases (for parks or other projects) based on good sales prices or opportune moments and that the plan should provide for that flexibility.
The now adopted Heights UR district plan will allow for eventual project funding however monies are not expected to become available for several years, until property values rise enough to feed into the system.