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Ban on hold

Hood River Planning Commission will take a larger look at waterfront zoning changes in December

Potential zoning changes to restrict residential development on the Hood River waterfront are on hold for another few weeks while the city planning commission takes a deeper look at the issue.

The City of Hood River Planning commission decided Monday to put off making a recommendation to the city council regarding a code change that would prohibit residential development on the Hood River waterfront.

The members of the planning commission decided to take another two weeks to come up with their own ideas of what a mixed-use waterfront would look like and then meet again on Dec. 3 to try and reach a consensus. Following the consensus document, additional public comment will be sought.

Any attempt at an outright ban on residential development on the waterfront will have to go over the protestation of numerous waterfront stakeholders.

Several stakeholders, including the Port of Hood River and Naito Development, (which is attempting to build a hotel and commercial building development at the south end of Nichols Boat basin), testified in opposition to prohibiting residential zoning.

“I don’t get what we’re doing here,” said waterfront 76 gas station owner Doug Hattenhauer.

Hattenhauer said he had put expenses into his property under the assumption it would continue to be a C-2 zone, which allows commercial and residential development.

“I just don’t understand why you are trying to place these restrictions on this property,” Hattenhauer said.

Hattenhauer said that in his opinion, residential use would be similar to a waterfront hotel – it would be busy sometimes but dark at other times – and noted that the city council had approved a hotel for the waterfront.

Realtor Greg Colt said he was opposed to restricting residential development on principle anywhere it was currently allowed. “This is a lousy idea,” he said.

Moments after the Naitos had officially withdrawn their request for a conditional use permit for a cable park in the Nichols Boat Basin (after failing to get Port approval), Bob Naito was back in front of the planning commission testifying in opposition to the plan to prohibit commercial development.

The conditional use permit had been the first item on the planning commission’s agenda for the meeting.

Naito felt that allowing residential in addition to or as part of commercial development on the waterfront would help bring the area to life.

“If that is your home,” he said of the waterfront, “then the area around your home becomes your front yard.”

The planning commission had been urged to take up the issue by the city council and by Mayor Arthur Babitz, who feared that residential development on the waterfront would lead to rows of empty homes or condominiums in the winter time.

However, many of those testifying before the council Monday night felt those fears were overblown.

“(Without any residential development) down there you have a brewpub and maybe another restaurant and after 5 p.m. It’s completely dead,” Naito said.

Naito also said that allowing residential would help solve some of the traffic problems going to and from the waterfront.

“If there is one constraint on development north of the freeway, the only way in or out is Second Street overpass ... allowing residential development uses much less parking per acre of land. And, it’s off-peak parking, so you can double up on the land,” Naito said, adding that in his view it would allow residential users to park at night and use the spaces for waterfront business during the day.

The Port of Hood River, that owns much of the property on the waterfront area under scrutiny, also opposes the ban.

Port Director Michael McElwee said that any attempt to restrict residential development on the waterfront should, at minimum, consider the waterfront areas on the east and west sides of the Hood River to be two distinct areas.

“We believe this is unnecessary and too broad,” he said. McElwee added that the waterfront area on the eastside of the Hood River is already well defined as park and open space and a commercial sector. He went on to say that the westside of the river does not yet have a specific plan and that the port “can see the possibility for a mixture of uses.”

McElwee encouraged the commission to hold off on any action as the Port is attempting to wrap up its own planning process for Lot 1.

The Port considers Lot 1, which is currently a large open space between the event site and Portway Avenue, to be one of the keys for future economic development on the waterfront.

The Port had suspended its planning process for the lot as it deliberated on whether to enter negotiations for the cable park in the Nichols boat basin.

Now that the cable park has been denied, the Port wants to conclude the planning process for Lot 1 by the end of the year.

“Although that area is primarily zoned for light industrial ... it could be compatible with a variety of mixed uses along the west edge of the Nichols basin that might be compatible with the pedestrian and bicycle environment,” said McElwee.

That mixture of uses, said McElwee, might allow for upper level residential units on top of lower floor commercial units. He went on to say that regardless of what mixed use entails, now was not the time to be restricting development possibilities on the waterfront.

“This is not the right time because of work that is underway and is probably unnecessary because of the limited amount of commercial zoning on the waterfront,” he said.

At a previous meeting in October planning commissioners appeared split on whether or not to ban residential development on the waterfront. At that time, most appeared to be in favor of prohibiting exclusive residential use, and requiring it to be connected to commercial development.

With no simple solution readily apparent, the planning commission decided to take some time for each member to consider their thoughts and come back on Dec. 3 to try and come up with a recommendation for city council.

“In the meantime do some homework ... send me an e-mail with all your talking points on exclusive versus mixed use and we’ll work with what we can get to on the third,” said Planning Director Cindy Walbrige.

The city council has a full slate in December with a scheduled hearing on a land use board of appeals remand tied to the proposed Wal-Mart expansion. Walbrige said the council would likely not be taking up any waterfront zoning changes before January.

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GorgeGeek80 1 year, 7 months ago

Picture this: A quiet, peaceful waterfront at dusk where you and your family can go feed the seagulls and take a relaxing walk around the area whenever you want, and for no reason except that you just wanted to get away from the manic world around you for awhile. No TV, no cell phones, no tablets, just you and the beautiful Columbia River Gorge surrounding you.

This is the way it is now, and was to a larger extent the way it was 20+ years ago; I should know, I grew up in Hood River and was always excited to visit the waterfront with my family.

Now, if and when this residential zoning mistake happens, none of us will get to enjoy that, save for the lucky few families who will live down there. Oh, wait, it's gonna be outlandishly expensive, so only the richest of the Hood River area residents could live there. Also, as it's mixed zoning, you will have industrial complexes there, too. Guess what? There goes your scenic environment, your peaceful walks along the waterfront because it will be so crowded that there will be no place to go hardly, and don't forget about the littering and destruction of property by careless folks. (oh, wait, nobody does that anymore, right?)

So, instead of a peaceful, serene waterfront after 5-6 pm, there will just be more clogged roads, jam-packed lots with 4-story houses that violate building height code, just like a couple of buildings on the Heights do already, and crowded living spaces. Remember what happened on 13th street? That same type of development will likely happen on the waterfront, too. Peaceful, scenic views of the Gorge will be uglified up by cookie-cutter residential buildings, more than likely condos. What happens then? Why not put a massive waterfront park down there like the one in Portland; you know, the one that was planned, advertised and hyped up so much but got scrapped halfway in? A FREE area that everyone could enjoy, and families could come down and get out of the house for awhile and enjoy the waterfront? Oh, yeah right. That wouldn't generate nearly as much revenue as residential buildings, would it now?

Residents and those of you who honestly love Hood River and enjoy being here, please let these people on the Port Commission know that we want our waterfront park, so at least we can grow in a similar direction to Portland, which will be a key factor in our city's economic development, and you would have happy residents instead of a huge backlash from concerned residents, and there will be a huge backlash if our waterfront turns into a crowded, traffic-clogged wasteland.

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