Zoning changes decision on hold until February

County Commission first wants to see significant revisions to planning proposal

In light of the approaching kickoff of football season, the Hood River County Commission’s decision on revisions to the county zoning ordinance seemed only appropriate.

The commission decided to punt the revisions back to the planning department and planning commission for rewrites and continued its public hearing on the matter until Feb. 17.

“I think there is more than enough here for us to work with,” said Planning Director Mike Benedict at the end of a nearly two-hour discussion in the county administration board room.

At the prior month’s meeting, Commission Chairman Ron Rivers had said he did not want to make a decision without the full board present. Even with the full group of five at the meeting, the commission could not reach a consensus on many of the ordinance changes.

On many of the items, though, they were able to give the planning department general guidance on how they would like thing to work.

However, even getting to that point of the discussion in some areas proved a tricky task.

The zoning changes were originally brought to the commission in June in order to codify several items which Benedict said had previously been handled subjectively.

However, at the June meeting members of the public and several commissioners raised concerns over the changes.

Commissioners Bob Benton and Les Perkins had worked with the county planning staff to make revisions to the code changes to the zoning ordinance, but in many cases they felt those changes did not go far enough.

Benton came to the meeting with additional proposed corrections outlined in green highlighter.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Maui Meyer, who had said he was in favor of approving the original document at the time it was presented to the county commission in June, said he was uncomfortable with the idea of sending the changes back to the planning commission.

“It sets a precedent for the first time in a long time for us to dive in like this and I’m cautious of it,” he said.

Many of the other disagreements on the board came over whether they should send back specific corrections they wanted to see in a revised document or if they wanted to give broad directives.

“I’m not a planner and I don’t feel comfortable making those decisions at the end of this process,” said Perkins. “I’d rather tell them what I am uncomfortable with and let the planning department and planning commission go from there.”

The longest and most wide-ranging discussion of the night came from the guest quarters provision section of the code revisions.

The language in the section would allow guest quarters to be occupied on a “temporary basis” and only by “family members or nonpaying guests.”

Meyer argued that the section should be changed to allow guest quarters to be rented out, saying he felt it would help address the work force housing crunch in the county.

Perkins disagreed, saying that current state land use law limits development to one dwelling per parcel.

Meyer argued that by allowing rentals in addition to the primary dwelling the county would be taking the chance to “swing for the fences” to see if it could pass muster at the state.

At one point it appeared the discussion was winding down with Benton and Perkins in favor of striking the entire guest quarters provision, Rivers saying that he also felt “it flies in the face of state land use planning” and Meyer conceding that it looked like the provision should be pulled.

State land use law typically limits parcels of land to one dwelling per parcel.

At that point Commissioner Karen Joplin jumped in and noted that the entire reason the commission was looking at the document was to provide guidance, and simply striking the entire section would not be providing any.

Joplin also raised the point that guest quarters may not be in violation of state law because they did not have cooking facilities.

“I still am supportive of some type of ability for people to use their properties in a legitimate way and that may include a remote location for guests to sleep,” Joplin said. “I’m not opposed to accommodating that type of request in some way in this ordinance.”

By the end of the subsequent discussion, the attitude on the commission had completely changed on the matter.

While they still wanted to send the entire document back to the planning commission for revision, they decided to leave the guest quarters provision in for revision, as well.

At times the discussion on what directives they should give the planning commission became scattered, with the board jumping around from section to section, and other times moving on without actually finishing the discussion on the prior section.

That forced Planning Director Mike Benedict to jump in on numerous occasions.

“I’m not sure what the direction is; I heard two different things,” he said at the end of a discussion on what changed would need to be made to a dwelling for it to be considered decommissioned.

The initial portion of that discussion focused on whether owners should be required to remove anything from a building in order to to decommission it. Benton questioned if that was necessary as a measure to discourage use of the original dwelling would already be in place through a deed restriction.

Benton opposed the removal of items, such as kitchen appliances, laundry facilities, bathroom facilities, 220-volt electric outlets and plumbing from the building.

He favored having the parcel owner submit a plan for decommissioning the building, while the other commissioners favored a checklist approach, meaning that if an owner could demonstrate they had done certain things the county required within a timeframe, the building would be considered decommissioned. Among other things the board wanted the planning commission to take another look at where cumulative building size requirements and the possibility of employing a different methodology beyond a set square footage. The planning department and planning commission will now take the board of commissioners directives under advisement and bring back a revised proposal in February.

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