Lot 700/Morrison Park rezone gained the renewed support of a split city council on Monday.
Six of seven members of the Hood River council heard nearly three hours of testimony — almost all of it against the rezone — while also tweaking the rezone conditions to ensure no more than 55 percent of the five-acre lot is turned into housing. The action received a 4-2 vote of council.
“It changes the zoning, but it’s compatible,” said councilor Kate McBride.
“If we rezone, then that park is not a park,” argued councilor Mark Zanmiller.
Chief opponent Susan Crowley said she will appeal the ruling to the state Court of Appeals.
Crowley said, “The city council decided on Monday to double down on rezoning Morrison Park for housing. It’s a sad case of good people with the best of intentions doing a bad thing.”
The three proponents of the rezone included two of whom represented the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority: Its director, Joel Madsen, and the agency’s attorney, Jennifer Gregor.
One supporter, Bonnie New, said the rezone “enhances access to the park space,” and that the council is considering “use of park space, not just existence of park space.”
“Morrison Park needs to be preserved now, as it is the only precious little urban forest space in the area of Hood River,” said Ann Frodel.
Council’s purview, legally, was to determine if the rezone met the following provisions of Goal 8, Recreation and Open Space, of the City Comprehensive Plan (see “Goal 8 Wording” sidebar for the wording).
“Private housing on any portion of park land is by definition ‘incompatible’ with public park use on that land,” said Crowley, who had filed the appeal to Land Use Board of Appeals last year. “Any interpretation otherwise is not just implausible and absurd, it’s per se unlawful.”
City Attorney Dan Kearns said he disagreed that the city lacks the authority to do the rezone.
“You have the authority to rezone parks, consistent with your comprehensive plan,” he said.
Last year, the city preliminarily agreed to rezone Lot 700, at Wasco and 20th streets and home to forested open space and the Hood River disk golf course, to turn it into a combination of affordable housing with retained open space.
Formally, the city agreed to sell the parcel to the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority for $1 as one step toward meeting the need for affordable housing, making use of publicly-owned land to help the Housing Authority lower its development costs.
Councilors Erick Haynie and Tim Counihan, both elected in November, voted against upholding the rezone.
Haynie had moved that the council reject the rezone, but the motion did not receive a second.
“We are to be protecting all of the park, not just a portion,” Haynie said.
Counihan initially abstained. At Kearns’ encouragement, he said, “I’ll vote no.”
Councilors McBride, Zanmiller and Jessica Metta voted in support, but the measure needed at least four to pass. Mayor Paul Blackburn cast the deciding vote for a 4-2 finish.
But the idea received major push-back Monday, with 20 people stating emphatic cases for keeping the park as is.
The comprehensive plan “is your constitution,” Susan Johnson said. “Do the right thing,” added for former council member.
Several people who are frequent disc golf players spoke against the rezone, including Devon Carroll of Hood River.
“You are sacrificing one need for another, and taking a huge leap backward,” he said. “These people speaking tonight are the users, the people you represent. If that doesn’t say, ‘Enough, go home and get over this,’” Carroll said.
Frodel said, “While we understand that you are planning for growth and encouraging density, you must also consider open spaces and parks as invaluable public assets that meet or community’s current and future needs. Providing and preserving public parks is an important function of municipal governments.”
Madsen of the Housing Authority said the rezone “will protect park space as a viable option as part of achieving our mission, to provide affordable housing and meet the needs of the unhoused.”
“This will increase connectivity and put the city in a position to create a great neighborhood,” Gregor said.
In his testimony, another opponent of the city move, Avi Cohn, told council that if it approves the rezone, “We’ll take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Opponents of the rezone also pushed the city to look at other options as sites for developing affordable housing, including the West Cascade ODOT yard and other parts of the estmated-13-acre-parcel known as Morrison Park.
“I haven’t seen any indication of any due diligence for other sites for this purpose,” said Kathryn Huhn of Hood River. “Why we’re here seems hypocritical in nature. Parks are known for uniting cities. Don’t divide our city. Don’t take our park away.”
Much of the discussion dwelled on the issue of introduction of new information, which is expressly disallowed under the rules of the remand hearing, which limits testimony to matters stated or debated in past proceedings.
But Crowley argued that the city staff report “introduces a new argument to justify rezoning an existing park site for housing development. The staff report now argues that use of a ‘portion’ of a park for high-density housing development can be made ‘compatible’ with use of the same site as a public park through conditions.
She cited Oregon case law that says once a property has been inventoried as a park for Goal 8 purposes, “it is inconsistent with Goal 8 to interpret the plan to allow changing the designation and zoning of the that property to a non-recreational use without amending the plan text and demonstrating that the amended plan remains in compliance with Goal 8.
“What we have here is paradise. In Oregon you just can’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot,” Crowley said.