Hood River City Council devoted an hour Monday to hearing testimony on what essentially a dead issue: Turning part of Morrison Park into affordable housing.
Citizens’ testimony to the council came down to two messages:
Revert Morrison Park, or Lot 700, back to Open Space. The city rezoned Lot 700 residential in 2017 and then entered a partnership with Mid Cascade Columbia Housing Corporation (CCHC) and Housing Authority to pursue funding and development.
Actively pursue other lands to transform into affordable housing, to meet a serious need in Hood River.
People on record supporting and opposing the Morrison Park housing proposal suggested looking at alternate properties such as those owned by Hood River County near West Cascade and Mt. Adams Loop and Columbia Gorge Community College land next to the Indian Creek College campus.
Joel Madsen of the Housing Authority had announced last week that the project failed to receive a critical piece of state funding, known as Low Income Tax Credits, and confirmed to Council Monday that CCHC would discontinue its efforts at Lot 700.
‘We’ve decided to terminate our existing agreement and not pursue development on this site,” Madsen said when asked for clarification on the Housing Authority’s announced decision.
He said antiquated data used in the CHCC proposal “put Hood River at a competitive disadvantage.”
“We’re committed to working with the state and other policy makers to consider policy changes that are more reflective of the housing needs of our community. We encourage you to engage with us in this important work,” Madsen told council.
Referring to the estimated 800-unit city-wide deficit of affordable housing availability, Councilor Kate McBride said, “Sixty-four units does not even get at that in a big way, but losing even this tiny bit is saddening.”
Councilor Jessica Metta agreed: “a lot of people are disappointed. We needed that housing a long time ago,” she said.
“We’ve put our best foot forward in this important work,” Madsens said. “We partnered with the city and made significant investment in pre-development activities, community engagement and design, as well as legal investment responding to the opposition’s tenacious litigation,” Madsen said.
“I must say Mrs. Crowley should be commended for her work, but to be clear I am not commending her for the outcome, but for her steadfast, relentless and clever legal work in opposition to the need for affordable housing in this community.”
He referred Susan Crowley, a leading opponent of the rezone and the plans to develop part of Lot 700. Crowley, of Hood River, currently has an appeal of the rezone pending with Oregon Court of Appeals..
“I spent my entire legal career working for the poor,” responded Crowley. “Many of the lower-income neighbors who live near Morrison Park support parks and have signed our initiative petition to protect parks. This is a movement for parks, not against housing.
“Despite Joel’s assertions, we simply have no assurance with any teeth that this is the end of attempts to put housing on Morrison Park,” Crowley said. “All Joel’s Housing Authority needs to do is apply for state funding next year. If they get it, they can get permission to build within just a few months, or even weeks,” Crowley said.
“The proof is in the pudding. If the city voluntarily rezones the park back to open space, then I’ll believe that Joel’s statements were sincere. Until then, we’ll have to continue our appeal of the city’s unlawful rezoning of a park for housing development. And this is not just me. Many people who love parks feel that with better planning the city can give its people both parks and housing. We should not have to choose.
“This is not a NIMBY case. Most people working to support our park protection initiative live nowhere near Morrison Park. Many of them are active in community activities that serve our most needy citizens.”
Madsen, referring to CCHC’s withdrawal from the Morrison Park proposal, said, “Our team is witness every day to peoples’ struggle for an affordable place to live. Our resources aimed at addressing these struggles are woefully inadequate.
“The development of 64 units on a small portion of Morrison Park would have certainly been a positive step forward in addressing the needs of many here in Hood River and for this reason it is a loss, not a win for Hood River.”
Madsen told council that Lot 700 was the most viable property of several considered by the Authority, and that it had looked at other lands in the city and found them too complex to pursue for affordable housing.
“This has divided a lot of people who wouldn’t normally be divided. I hope we can all work together and find some land, and help people get affordable housing,” said attorney Carolyn Smale, who outlined her ongoing work, sometimes pro bono, representing people facing foreclosure or eviction.
Then Council spent nearly another hour hearing an extensive report on an underground issue that has risen to the surface for city officials: a stormwater pipe system problem needing an estimated $4.7 million fix — clogged, damaged, and disused pipes — that affects private businesses, primarily Hood River Distillers and Hood River Juice Co., and public property on the waterfront.
Council action was to give city engineer permission to develop a report on forming a Local Improvement District (LID) to help pay for the project.
LIDs allow public infrastructure costs to be allocated proportionately to benefited properties, over a period of up to 30 years. The last time Hood River formed an LID was 11 years ago to fund the State Street redevelopment project.
Outside grants as well as Urban Renewal District funds or utility rates are other potential sources could be used to round out the budget. As reported recently in Hood River News, the city has been granted $1.7 million Oregon Lottery funds toward the project.
Engineer Stoner Bell presented a plan that involves raising failing pipelines that are currently lower than the Columbia River surface, and rerouting stormwater away from affected businesses, with outfall to the Columbia after primary filtration.
In other business:
Council approved a 3.3 percent garbage rate increase, requested by Hood River Garbage Service. The increase will amount to about 84 cents per month for a typical household.
Council gave city staff and consulting architectural firm Mackenzie permission to proceed with site evaluation for a new police department facility being considered. An initial study recommends building a 13,178-square foot structure, at a cost of about $11 million. The total area of the current police space in City Hall totals about 4,000 square feet. (A new facility could include increased evidence storage, more staff space, and a locker room, community room, and fitness room.)
“It would have a brand new functionality the police station has never had,” chief Neal Holste said.
Council heard Lions Club members’ report on what Mike Schend called “the fun part of the meeting “ — a significant addition to the stage at city-owned Jackson Park.
Schend and fellow Lions Stu Watson and Greg Simpson showed diagrams and photo depictions of what the new sloped roof over the stage will look like.
The Lions will donate the project to city and has the $150,000 needed for the work. The plan is to build it in spring 2020, in time for the Independence Day celebration, said Schend.