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City Council hears park concerns, roadway issues

Monday’s city council meeting brought new information tied to two large proposals — the Naito development at Nichols Boat Basin and a proposed annexation of Westcliff Drive into city boundary lines — and a small contingent of city residents alarmed about maintenance cuts now under way at nine city-owned parks.

Robbie and Matt English along with Neil McMillian, all neighbors of the Montello Avenue Park, spoke on their concerns over the impacts of possible “abandonment” or reduced park maintenance plans based on city budget constraints.

“This park (Montello) serves over 180 children. This is very concerning to us ... It is devastating for our community and our property values to have an abandoned park here,” said Robbie English. “Parks feel like a basic right. We are paying taxes ... It takes about 10 minutes to mow.”

Expressing concerns about whether water would also be cut off, the speakers learned from Public Works Director Mark Lago that only labor has been reduced for maintenance and that watering will still continue.

McMillian asked of the council, “What will be expected of the neighbors? We want to do our part, but we need to know what the future holds.”

Mayor Arthur Babitz asked for comment from City Administrator Bob Francis, who responded, “I don’t have a comment ... except to say that the part about abandonment isn’t correct. The part about a lesser level of service is correct.”

Lago went on to clarify that trash will still be collected at all nine parks and dog waste bags will be provided. The specified park names were not available as of press time.

“This is a reduction in the amount of labor available for park maintenance,” said Lago.

Matt English voiced concern for the impact on youth in the areas around under-maintained parks.

“These parks are a productive, safe place. They are great for families to go to. I’m concerned that with less maintenance, they are not going to be family-friendly,” he said. “I understand budget constraints but hope we can work out what I see as a major asset — making sure it doesn’t go away.”

Babitz advised the speakers that budget hearings for the new budget are now ongoing every Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Councilman Mark Zanmiller later addressed council, seeking to resolve the current budget year maintenance concerns. He volunteered to work with city staff on seeking potential solutions and offered to bring additional information before council in one of the next two meetings.

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Other council business:

Five proposed names for the new road connecting County Club Road with Mt. Hood Avenue were presented to council including: Hood River Avneue, Tsuruta Avenue, Cherry Blossom Avenue, Wine Country Avenue and Winery Discovery Avenue.

After short deliberation, the council chose Wine Country Avenue. The new road is part of the realignment project at the intersection of Cascade Avenue and Country Club Road near I-84 at exit 64.

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On the newly emerging “hot topic” issue of whether to annex the properties on Westcliff Drive (including Columbia Gorge Hotel and the Vagabond Motel) into city corporation boundary lines, the public record was opened but no testimony was taken.

The planning commission has yet to provide a recommendation to city council on the Vagabond Hotel’s proposed expansion, which would necessitate access to city sewers. The annexation will affect taxation rates for both hotels as well as the flow of transient room tax dollars away from county coffers into those of the city.

Columbia Gorge Hotel owners argue that increased tax rates would threaten their business. City Council hopes to bring the issue forward on May 29 after receipt of a decision from the planning commission.

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An access road ownership/easement issue tied to the proposed hotel and commercial building project at Nichols boat basin, brought a five-point legal objection from Friends of the Hood River Waterfront, submitted by Hood River resident Linda Maddox on behalf of the nonprofit.

Staff received the legal arguments at the meeting precluding time for research and response. City Planner Cindy Walbridge and City Attorney Dan Kearns requested that the public record be left open on the proposal for the city to “vacate” their easement tied to the access road, until they could review the objects and prepare a response. The tentative date for re-examination of the topic was set for May 13.

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The council work session and consent agenda produced accepted contracts for city janitorial services, awarded to Mid-Columbia Janitorial, and the May Street Sewer Extension project, awarded to Crestline Construction, for $83,270.

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