City planning commission moves toward waterfront residential limits

The City of Hood River Planning Commission crept closer to being able to have a recommendation for the city council on residential building restrictions for the waterfront at its meeting Monday night.

After tossing several ideas back and forth, including ideas of separate zones for property directly on the water or those set back from it, the commission is likely leaning toward making a simple recommendation based on floor area ratio between commercial and residential development (FAR) to the council and then taking up the issue again in the future.

What the ratio of required commercial development to residential will be is going to be hammered out by the planning commission in the coming weeks and then addressed again at a Jan. 7 work session if needed.

The suggested minimum FAR was 1:1, which, for example, would be a one-story building covering all of the lot, or a two-story building covering half the lot.

Potentially anything above that ratio could be residential, such as a 2:1 building, which would be two stories covering the entire lot; but City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge said the commission had not determined a minimum or maximum.

Among the discussion items were how to work around a potential waterfront trail, and what development should look like along the trail.

The commission decided to take a step back from making a more in-depth recommendation after hearing from Port Director Michael McElwee who urged the city to work with the port where possible as the port continues its planning for its Lot 1 property just south of the Hood River Event Site.

“I think that the discussion about Lot 1 … should be input to the planning commission’s thought process as well as the city council and you have a very willing partner in the port to do that,” McElwee said.

Walbridge said that the city operates under different constraints than a port and that they would need to work with the city attorney before proceeding on a more comprehensive plan.

“I think we need to hear what the port had to say, which I think is very important; and we need to find a way through this quasi-judicial process to work collectively,” she said.

McElwee said that any changes to what was and was not allowed to be built on the waterfront was a piece of a larger puzzle that will need to be worked out in a collaborative way.

However, Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz, who sat in on the meeting, said that the city would have to take the lead in the process and that it should start at the planning commission.

“I think it’s great that the port wants to work with us but I don’t understand how this gets into the middle of this discussion on what is the underlying zone and what is the definition of C-2 zone north of I-84.”

Babitz added that while the port does own significant portions of land near the waterfront, it is not the only property owner in the area and that the city needed to have a zoning plan in place.

“Let’s put a FAR on there; we are trying to eliminate the erosion of employment lands with residential,” said Planning Commission Member Bill Irving. “Let’s put a FAR on there to ensure we are getting some commercial utilization. That should satisfy whatever this pressing need is and then we can figure it out.”

The planning commission recommendation is likely to go before the city council Jan. 14, and the council will then decide how it wants to proceed with that recommendation.

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