A plan to redevelop the Expo Center property at the Port of Hood River took a small step forward Monday night with the Hood River Planning Commission voting to recommend that the city council approve a rezone and site plan review needed to develop the land.
The port submitted a request to rezone a 2.33-acre portion located on three parcels from General Commercial (C-2) to Light Industrial (LI). A site plan review was also submitted by Jeff Pickhardt of Key Development for a 20,174-square-foot production and warehouse facility for Turtle Island Foods that’s slated for construction on the property.
Commissioners voted 5-1 to recommend that the city council approve the rezone as well as the site plan review. The lone dissenting vote came from Commissioner Nate DeVol, who believed that the entirety of the three parcels, not just portions, should be considered and subject to the rezone, according to meeting minutes.
A handful of people spoke in favor of the rezone to light industrial, including downtown property owners Andrew McElderry and Gary Bushman. The two were part of a group of downtown property owners who raised concerns at a port meeting this summer about retail development at the port potentially harming the economic viability of the downtown core, according to a story that ran July 19 in the News.
Steve Naito, attorney for Naito Development LLC, a Portland development firm that is trying to construct a hotel and commercial building at the south end of the Nichols Boat Basin, spoke in opposition of the rezone, arguing it violated the city’s municipal code and that the parcels should have been examined as a whole.
According to the minutes, Planning Director Cindy Walbridge stated, after consulting with city attorney Dan Kearns, that the parcel lines do not have to dictate the placement of the zone boundaries.
The issue will next go before the city council Monday evening to consider the planning commission’s recommendations in a public hearing.
Assuming the council agrees with the planning commission and approves the rezone and site plan review, the next step in the process will be for the port to submit an application to remove a condition that pertains to the remaining segments of the parcels that are still zoned C-2.
Port Executive Director Michael McElwee explained that currently there is still a condition on the parcels that only allows the C-2 designation for the purpose of an expo center or visitors center. McElwee said the condition was placed on the property in the 1990s for the Expo Center and then was apparently missed when a commercial building was constructed on the same property a couple years ago.
McElwee explained the designation needs to be changed to allow Key Development’s plan of demolishing the Expo Center and building two additional commercial buildings on the properties to proceed. He added that the designation also needs to be changed anyway because, “You never want to have a building that’s a non-conforming use.”
However, that application is currently on hold in order to address the aforementioned concerns of downtown business owners regarding potential impacts of commercial development at the waterfront on downtown Hood River. McElwee said in theory, lifting the condition could allow sorts of commercial development at the waterfront.
McElwee said he understood the concerns, but added the port is not interested in taking business away from Hood River’s urban core.
“The port does not want to and will not create a competitor to downtown,” he assured.
Currently, the port is working with downtown property owners and Key Development to come with a solution, which McElwee said could include amending the Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) the port has with Key Development to restrict the amount of commercial or retail that would exist in the new waterfront buildings. McElwee said Pickhardt will not “talk about any specific tenants, but says the ones he’s targeting are not from downtown and are office-related.”
McElwee said the conversations have been “constructive and seem to be going in the right direction,” and hopes the port can move forward with the application in the coming weeks.
“We’re just trying to find a workout that says, yeah that’s reasonable, but still give the purchaser, the developer, the ability to have a successful building,” he explained.