Go ‘Yard’

Time to act on transforming state land on Cascade for affordable housing

ODOT YARD property on West Cascade.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
ODOT YARD property on West Cascade.

Last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a decision from the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals that originally upheld the City of Hood River’s rezoning of Morrison Park, also known as Lot 700, for affordable housing, open space and regional trail connectivity. The split decision by the Court of Appeals, with the presiding judge dissenting in the City of Hood River’s favor, indicates the level of complexity involved in this particular land use case.

Now, Hood River has other parks, and another home could be found for the disc golf course; the need to provide affordable housing is a great one and there is little possibility in Hood River, with its lack of available, buildable land, for these vital projects to be built without sacrificing open spaces or other values.

In an emailed press release, city officials described the decision to rezone Morrison Park as “based on an extensive, thoughtful public process where all sides weighed-in with strong arguments based on community needs.”

That is true, just as the opponents of the rezone showed extensive, thoughtful arguments.

There is plenty of right to go around both sides of the issue.

It’s an interesting dynamic in the Lot 700 rezone debate that the place has different names depending on where you stand.

It is generally known as Lot 700 to officials of the City of Hood River and Mid Columbia Housing Authority, who have advocated at the policy level for the five-acre property to be rezoned and turned into affordable housing.

Morrison Park is the near-universal moniker for anyone opposed to changing the use of the park from tree-filled open space and disc golf course (managed by Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District).

So let’s call it Morrison Park and think in terms of retaining it as is, for it is not as if another option has not been looked at.

Now that the courts are putting the ruling on hold, we encourage the city and Housing Authority, and the State of Oregon, to step up and do what needs to happen to put affordable housing first at “West Cascade Yard,” and preserve Morrison Park, at least for a few more years.

The Oregon Department of Transportation owns the Cascade property, located just south of Morrison Park. It has the appearance of a large vacant lot with a large shed on it, an ODOT work facility.

The lot is almost always empty; recently an off-duty Oregon State Trooper was seen inside the fence, his dog on a leash. This is not highest use of this property.

West Cascade is an opportunity whose time has truly arrived.

To be clear, something that is hard to see from busy Cascade Avenue is the site’s other, vital purpose: Storage and distribution site for the all-important cinders ODOT spreads on the roads and freeway during times of snow and ice. The Yard property, as the affordable housing area it could be, should be looked at with phasing in mind — the chief option to keep the cinders function in place while the property is developed. The maintenance shed does not need to perch on prime real estate such as this. It could be incorporated in the shared City-County public works yard at 18th and May, approximately eight blocks away (where cinders are already stored, by the way).

Meanwhile, the city and ODOT are embarking on a study on moving the ODOT yard a half-mile north, to a site near the curve on Jaymar Road, which potentially would have direct access for crews to Interstate 84. While neighborhood impacts and likely removal of trees are concerns the city and state will have to address in moving the maintenance facility, it’s a positive step that they are looking at a new site.

Gov. Kate Brown has visited the West Cascade Yard property with the idea of using the property to meet the city’s affordable housing problem. So the need and the opportunity are clear; now is the time to put the idea into higher gear. The Morrison Park legal delay now points to the city’s need to start an active discussion with the Governor’s Regional Solutions team, which would facilitate some sort of land transfer. This ought to be doable, if all the parties in play truly act on their public vow to enable construction of affordable housing in Gorge communities.

The city’s and the Housing Authority’s relationship with Regional Solutions is already established; it’s a matter of the key minds involved deciding this is an avenue to truly pursue, and not just walk around it at the end of a leash.

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