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Planning commission approves Naito permit, opponents ‘likely’ to appeal

A plan to construct a hotel and retail development near the Hood River Waterfront took a big step forward Tuesday night when the Hood River Planning Commission voted to approve a conditional use permit for the project, despite objections from a local citizen group who say the project is improperly sited.

The development, referred to as Nichols Landing, is slated for construction at the south end of the Nichols Boat Basin — the former site of Nichols Boat Works — and would consist of an 88-room, four-story hotel, as well as a separate 20,000-sqaure-foot commercial building. Naito Development LLC, a Portland developer, is the project applicant.

Nichols Landing has been the subject controversy for years and the Tuesday night decision by the planning commission marked the third time the site’s conditional use permit has gone through the city’s approval process.

Nichols Landing Timeline

March 2007: Nichols Boat Works sells its 5.27-acre parcel of land along the south edge of the basin to Naito Development

April 2011: Naito Development proposes a hotel and commercial development for property. In August, a cable park is added to the proposal, but eventually is dropped.

Spring-Summer 2012: Port of Hood River, Hood River Planning Commission, and the city of Hood River hold numerous meetings on the project. In July, the Hood River City Council finally approves a conditional use permit and site plan for the development.

August 2012: Friends of the Hood River Waterfront appeals the city’s decision to LUBA.

March 2013: LUBA remands the decision to the city, ruling that the city erred in multiple areas when approving the application. Some issues relate to the Columbia River floodplain and the development’s potential impact on salmon.

June 2013: After addressing issues in the LUBA remand, city council approves the conditional use permit for Nichols Landing. Friends appeals the decision to LUBA again.

December 2013: LUBA remands the decision yet again to the city, citing that the city did not adequately apply its comp plan to a development that would occur in a 100-year floodplain. Naito Development requests a judicial review of the ruling, which is upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Naito Development proposed the project in 2011 after buying the 5.27-acre parcel from Nichols Boat Works back in 2007 and shelving subsequent plans to develop condominiums on the site in 2008. In an April 2011 story, the News reported that Bob Naito, head of Naito Development, expected to have the hotel open for business by mid-2013 and anticipated “little opposition to the project.”

Naito’s prognostications turned out to be incorrect, on both accounts. The project has attracted a great deal of controversy over the years, most notably from Friends of the Hood River Waterfront, who have opposed many aspects of the project, particularly the location of the proposed development, which lies within a 100-year floodplain.

The project has since ping-ponged from the city to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) to the Oregon Court of Appeals and back again multiple times, addressed in remands, appeals, and public hearings.

Tuesday night’s public hearing was a continuation of a hearing held July 7 to address the latest remand from LUBA, which stated the city did not properly apply areas of its own comprehensive plan when evaluating the proposal. LUBA singled out “Goal 7, Natural Disaster Implementation Strategy 4,” which requires that, “No permanent structure shall be erected within a flood hazard area unless the structure or the area meets the criteria set forth in the [Flood Plain] overlay zone.”

Planning commissioners evaluated such criteria as whether the development had adequate access for emergency vehicles, a flood-proof design, would not impact flood stream flows, would not impact other properties, and others. Testimony was received from both sides and was similar to the previous week’s testimony. The Naitos argued their development adhered to the city’s comprehensive plan, while Brent Foster, attorney for Friends, countered that a retaining wall holding back fill used in the project could impact flood stream flows and potentially damage other property, and that the development could harm salmon populations protected under the Endangered Species Act that have been documented in the boat basin.

Foster also pointed out a discrepancy over the proposed size of the hotel, which according to Foster has ranged anywhere from 45,000 to 70,000 square feet. Last week, Steve Naito, brother of Bob Naito and a Portland attorney who has advocated on behalf of Naito Development, estimated the hotel as 70,000 square feet in size during the public hearing, but then referred to its size during Tuesday’s meeting at around 60,000 square feet.

According to Foster, the hotel was originally planned to be 45,000 square feet and he requested for the second hearing in a row that the record remain open in order to respond to the difference in size.

“That is new information that significantly changes the project,” he said.

Steve Naito said the size of the project was the same as had been originally proposed. During the July 7 hearing, Steve Naito said the discrepancy was due to “incorrect communication,” at some point during the development process. City attorney Dan Kearns examined the original project documents during the meeting and determined the city had signed off on a hotel that was 58,543 square feet.

“But more importantly, is, this issue is not in front of you today, and regardless of what issues with respect to this stunning revelation may occur,” Steve Naito wryly told commissioners, “the only issue in front of you today is the FP combined zone.”

Chair Laurie Stephens and commissioners Jennifer Gulizia and Nikki Hollatz denied Foster’s request to keep the record open, determining that the project had not changed. Commissioners Casey Weeks and Bill Irving were both absent while Commissioner Nathan DeVol again recused himself due to interest he had expressed in potentially acquiring retail space in the proposed commercial building.

Hollatz, Gulizia, and Stephens also voted to approve the conditional use permit, subject to two additional conditions: that “all structures “including the proposed retaining wall” that fall within the floodplain” are deemed “flood-proof” and are approved by a city building official; that the applicants obtain “all required federal and state permits” that are “related to development within the floodplain” as well as “complete their consultation with NOAA Fisheries” regarding whether the development would have an impact on basin salmon. (NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

Friends of the Hood River Waterfront have 10 days to appeal to the Hood River City Council after the findings of fact from the public hearing are approved. Foster reported Wednesday that his client had yet to make a decision, but noted that, “we are likely to appeal.”

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