Mt. Hood Meadows administrators say they have decided to rescind the resort’s application to build a park and ride in the community of Mt. Hood after hearing numerous concerns from the public about the proposal during a Hood River County Planning Commission meeting last week.
In a letter sent to Hood River County Planning Department Director Michael Benedict, Meadows CEO Matthew Drake and Jake Bolland, vice president of operations and administration, said that in addition to public concerns about the proposal, the decision to rescind was influenced in part by a demonstrated “lack of alignment” regarding interpretation of county zoning ordinances amongst the planning commission, the planning department and the public that occurred at last week’s meeting.
“We now understand that, while our proposed use of property… is an allowed commercial use, our proposal does not meet the broader needs and hopes of the local community,” Drake and Bolland said in the letter. “Accordingly, we hereby rescind our application.”
The announcement came as welcome news to Libby Rossknecht, who owns a vacation rental called the Mt. Hood Guest House that would have been adjacent to the proposed park and ride site on Corner Loop road near the intersection of Highway 35 and Cooper Spur Road.
“I’m ecstatic,” she said.
Meadows had planned to build the 179-space gravel park and ride this winter recreation season to help out with peak snow days when the lots at the resort are full. Guests and employees of the resort were to board busses at the lot and then ride 21 miles south to the resort in an attempt to reduce traffic and prevent accidents on the snowier sections of Hwy. 35.
County planning approved the application in late September, which was subsequently appealed by Rossknecht, who argued that the planning department had violated county zoning ordinances by approving the proposal. She also stated the application was “deficient” because the proposal would create dangerous traffic congestion at the intersection and noted the park and ride was out of character for the small community.
“That’s our only spot to hope for development in this town,” Rossknecht noted of the site.
During a public hearing held by the planning commission on Rossknecht’s appeal last week, a bare-minimum quorum of four commissioners was unable to achieve enough votes to pass a motion on the appeal, which resulted in a default denial of the appeal, although not before several community members had a say on the matter. All who testified were against the proposal and some were critical of Meadows itself, expressing a lack of trust in the resort and the resort’s employees, whom were reported to have littered the parking lot of Mt. Hood Town Hall with beer cans when it was previously used as a park and ride.
Drake and Bolland said in the letter that the meeting had made Meadows administration “more aware of some of the unfortunate past behavior of a few of our employees,” as well as a “the apparent lack of trust by some in the community for Mt. Hood Meadows regarding the sincerity of our commitment to being an active member of the local community and a good neighbor.” The two expressed a desire to improve Meadows’ image in light of the criticism and pledged to “better communicate our expectation that our employees be ambassadors” of the resort and the community.
Rossknecht said she appreciated the letter, which was sent to various parties whom had stakes in the issue.
“I think that it was good that they finally acknowledged that there were a lot of community concerns,” she told the News. “I think it’s good that they acknowledged there were issues with their employees and they want to address that.”
Rossknecht was ready for a long fight and was in the midst of preparations for filing an appeal with the Hood River County Board of Commissioners when she received news of the rescindment Monday evening. She also had planned to appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) if the county commission did not rule in her favor.
Dave Tragethon, spokesperson for Meadows, said that Meadows didn’t necessarily believe that those bodies would rule against them, but that the resort wanted to concentrate instead on the current winter recreation season.
“No, I don’t think we were concerned about the process,” he said. “We were concerned about the time it would take to appeal to the county commission and LUBA.”
Tragethon added that Meadows didn’t feel confident it could have the park and ride be used year-round for commercial purposes — a desire he said seemed to be expressed by planning commissioners during the hearing.
“We didn’t feel comfortable that we would be able to come up with a year-round business plan up there that would be supported by the community,” he explained.
Now that the park and ride is not going in at Mt. Hood this fall as was originally planned, Tragethon said Meadows will continue to do what it did last year and provide park and ride points at the middle school in Welches and at the parking lot at the Mt. Hood Country Store — directly across the street from the park and ride’s original intended site.
“Hopefully, that will allow us to accommodate those peak days this season,” he said.
Tragethon confirmed Meadows was no longer pursuing the purchase of the land off Corner Loop Road at this time, but is looking for other possible sites for a park and ride along Hwy. 35, although he declined to mention any specific potential sites.
“We are using the information that we gathered during this process to help us find the right location,” he said.