The battle over a waterfront hotel project at Nichols Landing is moving to a new front.
The Port of Hood River has agreed to take up the issue of whether or not a lease should be provided to Naito Development for a cable park in the former Nichols Boat basin.
The cable park had originally been included with an application to construct a hotel and commercial building at Nichols Landing, but the two proposals were split earlier this summer.
The port commission had originally intended to wait until the entire project had gone through the permitting process at the city and Army Corps of Engineers, but developer Robert Naito of NBW LLC requested that they act sooner.
Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz addressed the port commission at its Tuesday, July 10, meeting and encouraged them to act.
“This was precipitated by a call from Bob Naito were he expressed a desire to find out with some degree of certainty where the port stood on this before engaging in a costly and lengthy process,” Port Executive Director Michael McElwee told the commission.
“On the city side it’s a practical matter to know what we think; if the commission is interested in entering into a lease.”
McElwee and the board laid out a four- to five-meeting process for the port to examine the proposal and for the public to have input.
After the meeting McElwee said the exact meeting schedule was still being finalized, but it will begin at the July 24 port meeting to review the port’s Lot 1 planning status and previous documents in the issue and identify key issues to be addressed moving forward.
The port then hopes to have a stakeholder roundtable meeting Aug. 7, followed by at least one and possibly two meetings for public testimony on the project.
If the public comment session prior to Monday’s meeting is any indication, the roundtable will either be lively, or none of the interested parties will come, and the public comment sessions figure to keep the commission busy, with many members of the public on both sides eager to weigh in.
Friends of the Hood River Waterfront, which has announced its intention to sue both the City of Hood River and Naito Development after the city approved the hotel and commercial building project, came under heavy fire during the public portion comment of Monday’s meeting.
Forest Rea, a member of the port’s Waterfront Recreation Committee and representative of the group Recreate Hood River, opened the barrage by announcing that Recreate Hood River would not be participating in any roundtable to which Friends of the Hood River Waterfront was invited.
“How can you invite someone to a roundtable who has basically declared war on you?” he asked. “We’ve tried to create roundtable discussions and the Friends have made it clear they are not interested in participating.”
Throughout his he repeatedly declared the actions of the Friends to be “frivolous.”
He was followed by his wife, Katie Rea, who continued the assault, saying that the demands of recreational users of the Basin could not “be heard through the fog of war on the public process the friends have waged. It is despicable and they should be ashamed of their actions.”
The assault lasted for several more speakers, before Leighton Hazlehurst, who had previously spoken in opposition to the cable park before the city planning commission, questioned whether or not the Nichols Boat basin was a public waterway and if any action could be taken there which could prevent public access.
Friends of the Hood River Waterfront president Linda Maddox was present at the meeting, directly next to Babitz, the mayor of the city her group is preparing to sue.
Port Commission President Jon Davies asked Maddox if she wanted to respond to the various accusations raised against the Friends, but she declined to do so.
“I don’t want to have an argument in this chamber,” she said.
During its discussion of the process, the port made it clear it wants to emerge from the process with a decision to either come up with a letter of intent memorandum of understanding with Naito by the end of the process or not offer a lease for the project.
The commission also made it clear it would like to see a preliminary staff recommendation after the potential roundtable so that the public could have a chance to comment on it during public comment sessions.
“At the next meeting let’s come back with a list of proposed roundtable invitees — assuming we can get some,” Davies said. “At the same time some kind of criteria to outline suggestions for public comment.”
McElwee questioned whether, if they could not get a significant number of stakeholders to attend a meeting, there were any point in having a meeting. He said if it was not possible and an alternative might be to have the Naitos come and re-present the proposal.
However, Davies said he hoped they would be able to get attendees for the roundtable.
“I think that roundtable is a great chance for us to ask and receive input on specific questions,” he said.
Also at the meeting:
n Voting on an intent to award the Ken Jernstedt Airfield runway shift project to K&E Construction of Salem, which submitted the low bid for the project.
n Statement by the commission that it wanted to see an engineers report on the feasibility, or lack thereof, that it could point to when questions are raised over bike or pedestrian paths across the Hood River Toll Bridge.
n Brief discussion with Mayor Babitz over the port’s desire to pave Portway Avenue. McElwee said they had been informed by the city that city did not wish for the port to proceed. Babitz said he was not aware of the reasons why, but would raise it with city staff, because he did not want to see the port lose federal funding for the project.