The future use of Morrison Park, home to trails and the city’s only disc golf course, must go another round.
On Tuesday, 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.
Hood River Mayor Paul Blackburn stated, “I’m disappointed with this ruling. It will now be a longer wait to build this important source of affordable housing, a longer wait for our lower income residents to have a quality, local place to call home.”
“The Oregon Court of Appeals said clearly that the city council was wrong to allow development on Morrison Park,” said Hood River resident Susan Garrett Crowley, who filed the appeal. “Once it is gone, a park is gone forever. Hopefully the mayor and council will accept the guidance of the Court of Appeals and will now protect Morrison Park and the other parks we have. We need more parks, not fewer parks, as the city grows.”
To Crowley, the decision upholds her contention that the city “unlawfully ignored its obligation to protect parks when it changed the zoning of Morrison Park in June 2017 to allow housing on the park.”
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.
“The city council deliberated important community values related to affordable housing, on the one hand, and recreation/open space needs, on the other, and worked hard to strike a balance that addressed both.”
The City of Hood River has several legal options for responding to the Court of Appeals decision. During the next few weeks, the Hood River City Council will review these options with city staff and legal counsel before deciding on a course of action. In the meantime, the city will continue to work to advance the Hood River City Council’s top priority: Facilitating the development of affordable housing in Hood River.
Morrison Park/Lot 700 is an urban wooded area of slightly less than five acres. The city rezoned the park in June 2017 to allow housing development on the site, and this rezone was appealed by Crowley.
The fair market value of Morrison Park is conservatively estimated at over $1 million, noted Crowley. In March 2018, the city council authorized a purchase option agreement to potentially sell the park for $1 to a developer, and no replacement park acreage was designated by the council.
The judicial review came at Crowley’s request after the State’s Land Use Board of Appeals affirmed the City of Hood River’s decision to rezone the property in order to develop affordable housing, in partnership with Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation (CCHC) and the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority. After an order to extend the decision beyond the statutory time for a decision on a judicial review was issued by the COA in July, the opinion has arrived in due time, noted Joel Madsen, Housing Authority executive director.
“Our board held a strategy session earlier this week to gain a better understanding of our potential paths forward in light of the looming decision (coming from the Court),” said Scott Clements, CCHC board president. “Lo and behold, the mere discussion has unlocked the decision! In all seriousness, this decision gives us a better understanding of our path forward to develop attractive, affordable homes on Tax Lot 700 in partnership with the City of Hood River.”
While the Presiding Judge dissented from the two others on the panel, the COA decision reverses and remands the Land Use Board of Appeals affirmation of the rezone, highlighting “an implausible interpretation of a land use regulation.”
Since Hood River City Council rezoned tax Lot 700 for the purpose of meeting the publicly identified need of more affordable homes, “CCHC has worked intently to put together a development concept that would produce 65 affordable rental homes and preserve a significant amount of open space on Tax Lot 700,” Madsen said in a press release.
“We’re committed to providing affordable housing opportunities in Hood River. We look forward to our continued partnership with the city and the broader community to bring this development to fruition. This decision adds to the complexity and path forward on this important community development,” Madsen said.