Port looks at the waterfront’s real estate potential

The maritime building as seen from Riverfront Trail.

The Hood River Port is looking at four sites to consider for potential real estate projects in the next few years: The Barman site, just north of Valero; East Maritime Site, a square lot between Waterfront Park and The Hook currently housing the Maritime Building; the south side of the Jensen building; and the Hanel mill.

Port Property and Development Manager Anne Medenbach introduced an Asset Strategy Tool during the port’s Aug. 21 work session that evaluates criteria for development, and explained how the tool determined these four properties to be the most economical.

The port has $9 million budgeted over the next two years for construction. At this point, said Medenbach, the port is in the early stages of evaluating these potential construction sites and is working to decide on a project to start for the 2019/2020 construction season. The port will likely undertake one or two projects, she said.

Deciding what to build on these sites is not just a financial decision, said Port Director Michael McElwee, and the port’s project objectives and public needs will be taken into account.

“You have to be really thoughtful about what makes sense and what’s most appropriate,” he said.

The goals of the meeting were to provide a general orientation to the Waterfront Refinement Plan and, more specifically, to discuss the zoning requirements for the East Maritime site so the commission knows what to consider going forward.

The commission spoke on the East Maritime site in particular because the port has “had interest from a couple of businesses about that site,” and it is the most strictly regulated of the four potential building sites, McElwee said.

The port will not be selling the East Maritime site or any other properties north of Portway Ave., he said, so it falls to the port to navigate the city’s zoning rules for that property.

The commission requested that Dustin Nilsen, the city’s planning director, go over those regulations with them during their regular Aug. 21 meeting.

“We have an interesting environment when it comes to trying to develop this land,” Nilsen said.

The area, Subarea 3, is zoned for light industrial use, which means it can house industrial services, research and development, manufacturing, processing, fabrication, packing, assembly of goods and warehousing.

The idea is that the space is used for the production of a product, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that production has to occur on site. Other uses, like office space and storage, are allowed if they’re deemed vital to the chain of production.

“(There is) some discretion there, but if this is a value to the production tool, then it counts as production use,” Nilsen said.

McElwee asked if a portion of the lot could theoretically be dedicated as a place for commercial trucks to turn around. Nilsen said that such an area would have to be stone-water friendly, meaning no gravel or asphalt could be used, and it would be up to the port to pitch the proposal to the city.

City code specifies a 28-foot height limit and a 25,000-square-foot limit for a structure on the lot and requires a 20-foot landscaped perimeter between a structure and Waterfront Trail.

Due to the lot’s small size, these landscape requirements make some of the city’s other infrastructure requirements difficult.

“Parking and navigation is going to be interesting,” Nilsen said.

Since the lot is in such a popular pedestrian area, facing the bustling Portway Avenue and right next to the highly utilized Waterfront Park, the aesthetics and façade of a theoretical building project will need to be taken into account, Nilsen said. “There’s really no backdoor on Lot 1,” he said.

Nilsen praised the “lively structure-scape” of Portway Avenue, but said that building to that level of human-scale (a type of design that incorporates pedestrian friendly elements into the of large buildings) costs money.

“I think we can celebrate how great it (the popularity of the area) is, but I do have empathy where someone is trying to build that and make those dollars work,” he said.

“We’re fully supportive of that element of the future streetscape,” McElwee said.

The port’s biggest challenge going forward, he said, will be “thinking through the best approach for a site that’s prominent … and trying to understand what the best approach is.”

The port will be carrying out more detailed financial analysis and real estate evaluations for the four sites and bring its findings back to the commission in a couple of months.

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