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Lot 1: Plan for potential

Hard to ignore, yet historically hard to plan for, Lot 1 sits in our collective front yard and beckons the community to finally act.

Lot 1, bounded by Second Avenue, the boat basin and the Event Site, is the most prime of all prime real estate in Hood River County, and yet for years it has remained empty except for Harvest Festival and other key weekends, when it fills with cars. Usually it’s little more than a large puddle with a great view.

Lot 1 deserves more, and it appears that the Port of Hood River, the agency in charge of the land, is finally poised to make something happen. An 18-month community input process is about to begin.

It will take community support and a true community vision.

“We want to be rigorously seeking public input and invite in specific guests from a developer standpoint, environmental standpoint, recreational standpoint and others, and have a good discussion,” Port Executive Director Michael McElwee said this week.

Hood River waterfront parcels, Lot 1 included, have had big plans before: a hotel proposal in the 1990s; the cable park proposal on Nichols Boat Basin in 2011-12. The foundation for a fast food restaurant that was never completed is still visible on Portway Avenue near Second Avenue.

It helps to look at the pieces already in place, a foundation that truly can be built upon: the city of Hood River’s recent decision to allow residential use on the waterfront; the unobtrusive nature of the nearby manufacturing tenants and landowners, including Tofurky, Ryan’s Juice, and Pfriem Brewery) and the wide, well-planned streets are all positives. The multitude of recreational facilities — the Event Site, The Hook, Waterfront Park (with the amphitheater and other improvements in planned phase two, adding more amenities as early as 2014) and the waterfront trail also add to the site’s potential.

The last feature is admittedly piecemeal, but it is there: A little-recognized fact is that public access that is safe and, mostly, easy makes it possible to walk from Second Street to the Hook, over to Hood River Inn, and back into downtown Hood River. You can do this and encounter Walk/Do Not Walk signs only once (on the Second Street overpass).

The one section where no designated sidewalk or path exists is along Lot 1 and the west edge of Nichols boat basin. The port is currently applying for a federal grant totaling $108,700 to help improve nearly 1,700 feet along that stretch. Whether the grant comes through or not, that trail link is a critical part of whatever plan is finalized for Lot 1.

You can walk to Lot 1 or drive there. With the proper planning, its proximity to downtown can be enhanced. It’s important to consider the trail and its current status and future potential within the overall Lot 1 scenario. Lot 1 is a large vacant area that is visually significant from downtown, the freeway and from the waterfront itself. Views in both directions need protecting.

Lot 1 and its neighboring parcels indeed have great potential, and it is good that the Port is opening up the planning process to accept wide input.

Though no “grand plan” has yet emerged for the entire waterfront, the planning and buildup that has happened so far is a healthy mix of recreational and industrial uses. Consider that, on the waterfront, places of recreation and dining exist side-by-side with the city’s wastewater treatment plant; that’s a true example of positive co-existence.

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