Morrison Park: City re-zone request gets hearing on Tuesday

The hotly-contested Morrison Park rezone issue goes before Planning Commission on Feb. 21, meeting at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

At issue is the City of Hood River’s request for a zone change from Open Space/Public Facilities (OS/PF) to Urban High Density Residential (R-3) in order to allow construction of affordable housing at the site, located at the intersection of Wasco and 20th/Jaymar Avenue.

The hearing is the second of two before Planning Commission. The first is for a Conditional Use Permit for a two-unit townhouse project including a two-parcel minor partition, from applicant Dale Marx; property owner is JLK Global (John Krier). The property is at 1313 Taylor Avenue (south side of Taylor Avenue) and is currently zoned Urban Standard Density Residential (R2).

The Morrison proposal has brought an outcry from those who want to see the property kept as a disc park and passive recreation and forest and wildlife zone.

Officials from the City of Hood River and the Mid Columbia Housing Authority cite the need to develop affordable housing, noting that the city owns the property so there would be no need to purchase the land.

“We certainly are in support of the city’s application for a zone change and feel it is consistent with the strategy to deal with the affordable housing need,” said Joel Madsen, executive director of the Housing Atuhroity, which would partner with the city in any development at the location.

In a recent opinion column in this newspaper, Susan Crowley of Hood River argued, “The proposal is required to comply with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which has the force of law. The plan could not be more clear. In mandatory language, Goal 8 of the plan states that ‘(e)xisting park sites will be protected from incompatible uses.’ That’s it: no exceptions, no compromises, no squishy language, just the mandatory term ‘will.’,” she wrote. “If any elaboration is needed, here’s some additional assistance, also from the Comprehensive Plan (Goal 5): “Lands zoned as Open Space will be preserved as open space.” Or consider this definitional prompt, from the plan’s newly revised Housing section, Goal 10: “Lands in public . . . ownership are considered unavailable for residential development. This includes lands in . . . City ownership. . .”

In response, Madsen said, “the comprehensive plan is a guiding light, but the city has the authority and decision-making to interpret its comp plan.” He said the comprehensive plan “clearly shows there is a public need for affordable housing.

According to Planning Director Cindy Walbridge, “The Council has the right to rezone its own lands through the process of either a quasi-judicial or legislative zone change.”

Madsen said, “We sometimes have to make tough decisions to address the challenges in front of us. I feel this is one of those tough decisions but in many ways it is more consistent with than inconsistent with the city comprehensive plan.” He cited Goal 10, to provide housing for diverse incomes,

“Additionally, the city has a goal for encouraging economic vibrancy and diversity and as we continue to hear, businesses are continually stressed with attracting and retaining employees in large part due to the lack of housing opportunities.”

Madsen noted that a recent Oregon Office of Economic Analysis blog on affordable housing in rural counties across Oregon placed Hood River County in the 90th percentile of least affordable counties across the country.

Walbridge said, “The city has received testimony in opposition to this zone change request with much of the opposition citing to the need for park lands, the preservation of open space, and the promotion of civic values.

“For the City Council, this opposition testimony reflects a narrow segment of the values of our citizens, and is only part of the city’s needs. On the other hand, there is the Council’s clearly stated policy to increase the amount of availability of affordable housing. This Council policy embraces the concept that ‘if you work here you should be able to live here’ and a revised Goal 10 (Housing) that references the Buildable Lands and Housing Needs Analysis completed in 2015 (Strategy #3- Housing Needs Analysis). A technical question raised by the opposition testimony is: Why does the City have to rezone public land to meet this affordable housing need? The response is that the private sector housing market cannot and has not met the public need for affordable housing. The City has also received testimony in support of the zone change.”

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