Parking and housing, two major bywords of city business in the past three years, dominated discussion Monday at Hood River City Council, which took a major step forward on the former and a measured step on the latter.
Council agreed to spend $9,000 on a feasibility study to be done under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Oregon Department of Transportation that will look into the prospect of a major change for the ODOT maintenance yard on West Cascade, property the city has eyed for more than a decade as potential affordable housing land.
Nate Stice of Gov. Kate Brown’s office confirmed that the land transfer process is “really rare.”
“The only reason we’re dong this is to help find land for affordable housing,” Stice said.
Council also moved ahead with its first major study of parking needs since 2007. This fall, the city will hire a consultant to do a comprehensive parking study to be completed by Spring 2019.
In other business, Mayor Paul Blackburn administered the oath of service to the city’s newest police officer, Derek Fuss, an Air Force veteran who previously lived in Lompoc, Calif. Fuss will start his 16-week Police Academy stint next month before going into regular duty.
Monday’s council meeting was the first for Rachael Fuller, hired this month as city manager. She succeeds Steve Wheeler, who retired and had spent the last five years with Hood River.
“I’ll be presenting something written by your former city manager,” Fuller said of the MOU with ODOT on the Cascade property, currently ODOT’s base of operations in Hood River. The MOU envisions the potential transfer of ownership of the Cascade Avenue facility (aka “the yard”) to the city, and moving the ODOT operations to a four-acre state-owned property to the north, along Jaymar Drive. The Westcliff site runs parallel to Interstate 84 east from the Jaymar freeway underpass.
The council heard extensive comment from Stice and Brad DeHart, both residents of The Dalles. Stice represents Gov. Kate Brown on the Regional Solutions Team, which works with local agencies on housing, transportation and other development concerns. DeHart, a Hood River native, is ODOT’s Gorge representative on the Governor’s Regional Solutions Team.
“The study work includes surveying the property, but this step is so far away from bulldozers being on the property,” DeHart said. “We will scope this to a high enough level that we all have enough information before we make the next move.”
DeHart stressed that while the proposed site is named for, and accessible from, Westcliff Drive, all ODOT access to the site would be via Jaymar, along with the possibility of ODOT-only access to the property directly from the freeway for trucks, sanders and plows.
The MOU states that “ODOT will be relocated from the facility to an identified site on Westcliff Drive contingent on the partners providing ‘turnkey’ improvements that allow ODOT to resume maintenance operations without functional loss.”
In November 2017, council identified parking needs as one of its top priorities for 2018. The scope of work was created by an ad hoc committee of city council members and downtown business and property owners appointed in early 2018. Consultant Rick Williams was hired to conduct parking use surveys in March and July, to be provided as background information for the comprehensive study.
The next step is to incorporate the scope of work into a request for consultant proposals, which Monday’s council action enables. Council Members Kate McBride and Mark Zanmiller served on the ad hoc committee.
The city has $80,000 remaining from a $96,000 budget to do the work. The city planning department and the planning commission will have extensive input on the study to come, and there will be “a significant public involvement,” Zanmiller said.
“It was pretty comprehensive,” McBride said of the committee’s work with Williams. “We have the money in the budget and we are ready to move forward on this.”
“We were pretty systematic, and hopefully we have the basis for a data-driven analysis for helping us with parking in the downtown core,” Zanmiller said.
The goals of the study are to ensure available parking spaces for visitors and workers downtown, parking availability and processes to enable adding housing in historic buildings that cannot provide on-site parking, to create an “equitable” revenue source for parking, and a system that “meets current best practices and anticipates changes in transportation behaviors and technologies.”
The new study will look at city-owned as well as privately-owned parking resources (both utilized and under-utilized), as well as current fees and regulations, and at the possibility of constructing a downtown parking structure; the city has $4 million available in revenue from the Columbia-Cascade Urban Renewal District that could be used for that purpose, according to the document.
The scope of work states that “a 2007 comprehensive parking study that was accepted by the city council … for a variety of reasons almost none of its recommendations were implemented.
“One major reason is that soon after it was completed, the ‘great recession’ impacted city resources such that parking was less urgent and a lower profile issue,” states the document.
“The local economy is now supercharged and downtown parking is a high-profile issue once again.”
The study tasks would include:
Examining current parking standards, compare to best practices and recommend updated parking standards for new downtown area development (commercial, office and residential).
Defining current space used and project future growth of used space.
Calculating the number of spaces needed downtown for one-year, five-year and long-range (20-year) projections.
Documenting existing parking supply and test and validated current-state parking needs analysis.
Other considerations include completion of the historic Columbia River Highway bike trail and the likelihood of increased local interest in bike transportation and its effects on downtown infrastructure including parking resources; addition of intersection bump-outs to improve pedestrian safety and traffic slowing, potentially at Second and Oak streets; impacts of fixed-route mass transportation options and their possibility to reduce the demand for parking downtown.
The scope of work also states that the study must “ensure public engagement and involvement,” review the impact of parking regulations and space standards on public buildings, and “review best practices and make recommendations so we can be prepare for the future impact of driverless cars on downtown parking.”