Hood River city council approves selling properties to fill city hall remodel gap

November 16, 2011

The Hood River City Council gave city broker Greg Colt permission to put four city properties on the market to fill a $300,000 funding gap in city hall renovations.

The lots range in size from 6,000 to 18,000 square feet and all were valued at approximately $150,000.

At the first public hearing last month, and at the continuance Monday evening, Hood River residents expressed concern about each of the properties, mainly centered on potential future development of the open spaces.

"It's a very important scenic and recreational property next to the steps," Jurgen Hess said of property lots 100 and 101 situated at Second Street and Sherman on the west side of the Hood River stairs. "We would recommend not selling it - it's an important piece of land for the public and the city."

Comments submitted to the city by several residents also recommended not selling tax lot 6400 which sits between Eugene and Hazel at Second Street.

The city may wind up not selling the properties, but the council members did not want to put any limitations on which properties they would consider selling, or in what manner it would sell them.

"Anything we do at this point in terms of placing limitations on the properties would lower the property value and mean we might have to sell three of them," council member Jeff Nicol said.

The rest of the council - with mayor Arthur Babitz recusing himself - agreed.

"My gut feeling is that we should put all four on the market, see what interest there is with the market like this and let the market decide," Laurent Picard said.

The council briefly discussed directing Colt to explore selling the property with significant limitations to curb future development on the property, but ultimately decided not to put any conditions on the sale until seeing what the market presents.

Colt said the only preliminary interest he had received was from neighbors of several properties interested in preserving the land.

Council president Ann Frodel said the council wanted to strike a balance of getting value for the land, but also being consistent with Hood River values.

"If we find value in a property with restrictions that might get us a win-win," she said.

City Attorney Dan Kearns said that nothing would prevent the city from taking a lower price on a property if it came with deed restrictions as opposed to taking a high offer with no restrictions.

"A slightly lower purchase price with restrictions may be a better value for you in the long run than a purchase with no restrictions," Kearns said.

Any offers that Colt fields will ultimately have to come back to the council for proposal, and Frodel said they would be reviewed at a public meeting.

"We want this to be an open and transparent process," she said.

The possibility also exists that the city will find no suitable offers, at which point the city would not sell them at fire sale prices, Babitz said after the meeting.

"The city finance director would then come up with some other possibilities," he said, possibilities which would include taking an outside loan or inter-fund loan within the city.

"That's something which happens regularly," Babitz said. "However, it didn't always used to happen openly and we are making an effort to be more open."

At the start of the meeting the council was returned to full strength for the first time since September with the swearing-in of newly appointed council member Ed Weathers. Weathers was selected to fill the seat vacated by Dawna Armstrong at the previous city council meeting. This will be his second stint on the council after having served as an interim member last year.

The city is also exploring options for purchasing a storage unit for building records to be placed at the city works compound after they are moved from the current city planning offices at the end of the year.

City Manager Bob Francis said such a unit typically costs around $11,000.

Babitz and Nicol both expressed some reservations with the idea especially if the unit did not have any fire suppression and there were no redundancies of the records, some of which date back over 100 years.

Francis said he will explore additional options before the next city council meeting.

Babitz declared Nov. 25 to Dec. 4 to be Buy Local Week in Hood River, where consumers are encouraged to spend their money at local stores for holiday shopping. Gorge Owned spearheaded the local effort for the campaign, which is part of a national effort.

The council also heard a presentation from Dr. Chuck Haynie encouraging the city to fluoridate its water.

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