Barrett Park gets the green light

The Hood River County Planning Commission Wednesday night narrowly approved a conditional use permit application filed by Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District to develop 31.4-acre park on property the district owns near the corner of Barrett Drive and Alameda Road.

A chief issue of the proposed park — and one that nearly derailed the entire project — is the high-value farmland, zoned Exclusive Farm Use, it will replace. In a 4-3 vote, the commission decided that developing the park would not have a significant impact on agriculture in the county. A majority “yes” vote would have sent the proposed park to a screeching halt.

The vote was not for or against a park in the county, but rather it addressed the removal of 31.4 acres of productive orchard land for use as a park. The commissioners’ final vote affirmed that the action was appropriate and legal, and that the land could be returned to its original condition following the requirements within the CUP application.

Among the seven-person commission, Stan Bensen, Carl Perron, Kathie Alley and John Brennan voted that no, the park would not have a significant impact, while “yes” votes came from commissioners Pat Moore, Peter Frothingham and chair Bob Schuppe.

In the nearly five-hour meeting, the commission heard public testimony from a variety of community members, both in favor of and against the development. Supporters, ranging from representatives of mountain bike, radio flier and Special Olympics groups to a high school teacher, health department director and an impassioned dog owner, asked the commission to approve the proposal due to the innumerable public health and community benefits it would have.

Of the two residents who testified against the development, comments were directed not at the need or merits of the park, but at its impact on neighbors, and the choice to develop it on high-value farmland.

Now that the CUP has been approved, County Planning Department staff will finalize wording on a number of conditions of approval within the permit application, which the commission will then vote on.

Of significant interest at the meeting were conditions staff recommended on a few key items of the application. The commission approved a mountain bike skills track and bocce ball courts, which staff had originally recommended against. The commission also agreed to give HRVPRD oversight to create a reservation and fee system for picnic shelters if the need arises, rather than limiting the district to a strictly first-come, first-served system.

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