December 1, 2014

A Planning Commission Hearing on the proposed new overlay zone for the Hood River Waterfront called the “Refinement Plan” Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, 5:30 p.m., Hood River City Hall, 211 2nd Street.

Please attend the meeting or send a note to the City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge regarding saving our valuable waterfront property from a proposed overlay zone that allows excessive development.  All of the properties along our waterfront from the Boat Basin to the Hook, including north of Portway along the Columbia, and the undeveloped Lot 1 are included in this new zone.  Unfortunately this has been such a quick process, it has flown under the radar and has not even been reported in the Hood River News.

There is a rush to get new zoning in place before the current Mayor and City Council leave office at the end of December. A little over a month ago, a small Advisory Committee was selected and given the task of working with a consultant to come up with a new overlay zone. The December 1 meeting is the first and possibly only Planning Commission hearing on the Advisory Committee’s draft zone. The Planning Commission could continue the hearing to allow for more public input, however, the City Council is scheduled to hold its own hearing on the plan on December 15.

There are many problems with this quickly moving process.  It should have begun with a visioning process involving the entire community rather than with writing new code language.  A normal visioning process would take 6 months to a year to complete before code writing would even begin.

Because of the time constraints and the amount of work to be done, the Committee did their best to complete their task. But quick decision-making for zoning code language which creates new laws is never a good idea and always dangerous.  Even with good intentions, mistakes can be made and they are often hard to change.

Since this effort is called a “legislative re-zone”, it is by nature broad in scope and difficult to change and so should be done even more carefully.

Some of the details in the current draft and our recommendations:

Proposed:  Light Industrial (LI) will be the base zone everywhere: north of Portway, along the west side of the Boat Basin, all of Lot 1 and, if the Planning Commission prevails, at the Expo Center. The Committee had the opportunity to change the base zoning north of Portway along the Columbia and along the Boat Basin to either Open Space (OP) or Recreational/Commercial (R/C) but did not.
Recommendation: Change the base zoning to OP for north of Portway and R/C along the Boat Basin.  This is the only way to ensure  protection for the waterfront!!

Proposed:  Along the new path/park at the Boat Basin there could be a total of 16,000 SF of buildings built with a maximum height of 20 feet.
Recommendation:  With the exception of a boathouse and restrooms, no other buildings should be allowed in this narrow space.  Building height should be limited to one story above North First Street.

Proposed:  Buildings north of Portway are allowed up to 28 feet tall with a 50,000 SF footprint, thereby allowing 100,000 SF buildings along the Columbia River.  There was no change to the present 75-foot setback for buildings from the top of the bank of the Columbia River.
Strong Recommendation:  No buildings should be higher than 20 feet. Uses should be limited to recreational use and services for that use. Building setbacks from the top of the bank should be 150 feet.

Proposed:  The height limit for Lot 1 remains at 45 feet.  The maximum building footprint is 50,000 SF.
Recommendation: On Lot 1 limit heights to 28 feet.  Maximum building footprint: 25,000 SF.

The Committee spent time discussing mixed use vs. Light Industrial at the Expo Center property and the possibility of carrying that same mixed use language elsewhere, such as for Lot 1, but the Committee was divided on this. The Planning Commission seems to be leaning toward Light Industrial everywhere: on Lot 1, the Expo Center and even north of Portway. This will be discussed Monday night..
Recommendation:  This Mixed Use zone still needs work but Light Industrial should not be the base zone for the waterfront property north of Portway or along the west side of the Boat Basin.  A carefully crafted mixed use zone has been a city goal for a long time and would work well for the other property in the overlay zone.

The bottom line is that what is being proposed is far more development than any of us could have imagined.  We need to speak up now.

Attend the meeting Monday night at 5:30 pm or send an email to Cindy Walbridge, Planning Director, Cindy@ci.hood-river.or.us

Cable Park Negotiations

October 25 UPDATE

Some of you are concerned about the progress of negotiations. We ask you to be patient. While we oppose the cable park, we do support lasting improvements at the basin. The challenge is to agree on something real and enforceable. There are lots of issues that need to be worked out:  How do we make sure that the cable park isn’t reintroduced next year by the Naitos or another party? How do we make sure the basin is preserved in perpetuity for public access, not leased to another commercial developer for a jet ski school or whatever? Also, there are real issues the public should be concerned about regarding the placement of the office/retail building. So far, we haven’t done a good enough job explaining those issues. We will describe them in detail with future posts here, by email and on our website so that the public can judge for themselves.

As for having private talks with the Naitos–such talks are the foundation of successful settlements. The Babitz/Davies plan was developed in private talks with the Mayor, the Port President and the Naitos. We like aspects of the plan, but don’t believe it would have gotten anywhere if they weren’t able to confidentially investigate its feasibility before presenting it to the public. An atmosphere of confidentiality allows the parties to explore creative options and compromises with a freedom that is just not possible in public. We have always said that the result of a settlement between the Friends and Naitos will be completely public–you will be able to see exactly the deal both parties have agreed to.

If anyone has questions they want answered, please send them our way. We want to make sure you have all the information you need.

October 18 UPDATE

While Friends was recently encouraged and excited by the announcement of plans to shelve the Naito’s proposed cable park and instead pursue the restoration and enhancement of Nichol’s Basin, it is essential that any such plan be clear and enforceable before Friends would drop our current legal actions against the Naito project.  In the last two weeks we have made offers to the Naitos, the City and the Port to let them know the Friends is enthusiastic about sitting down to settlement talks to work out a comprehensive solution that preserves public access, protects the Basin’s habitat values and respects the public’s strong interest in a real waterfront path around the Basin.

So far the Naitos have refused offers by Friends to engage in a normal legal settlement process where the parties meet and confidentially negotiate. The Naitos have tried to frame our request for confidentially during the negotiations as unusual. Far from it, confidentiality is the foundation of productive settlement because it creates an atmosphere in which parties feel comfortable exchanging information.  It allows the parties the freedom to be creative in finding effective solutions. That’s why legal settlement talks are always confidential.  While the talks are private, we have been clear that any final settlement agreement reached by the parties must be public.  We want you to understand that as well.

Unfortunately, before there has even been a chance for settlement talks to start, the City of Hood River has been required to schedule a Planning Commission hearing on the cable park application for November 19th.  Because the Naitos haven’t withdrawn their application or asked to have the clock for processing the land-use decision extended, the city must still proceed with considering the cable park decision. This is hardly the type of thing that encourages a rational settlement process.  The cable park application also requires the permission of the Port, since it “owns” the land under the basin.  We request that the Port withdraw its permission from the Naito’s to pursue a land use permit –even if only temporarily. This would table the Planning Commission’s action on the cable park while settlement talks would be allowed to begin. We encourage you to contact the Port at porthr@gorge.net and the City jennifer@ci.hood-river.or.us to stop the permit process for the cable park and give everyone time to work toward a settlement.

Obviously this is complicated and we will try to keep you updated. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions hoodriverwaterfront@gmail.com.