Port plans outlined at Thursday forum

The history of waterfront development in Hood River has been chronicled with controversy — but Port Director Dave Harlan contends there has been a happy ending to each chapter.

Speaking at Thursday’s waterfront forum, Harlan said he is confident that the current waterfront planning efforts will yield the same benefits as two highly contested efforts in the past. He said the 1980s renovation of the Diamond Cannery complex in downtown Hood River and placement of fill material in the sloughs and mudflats on 76 acres along the Columbia River in the 1950s were both met with opposition.

But Harlan said there is now improved shoreline access for recreation and 12 blocks of aging industrial property has been redeveloped. He said because the port stepped up to pay $11 million for the property and improvements, the 800,000 square foot building now houses companies that employ 541 workers.

“The Diamond project was not popular with some people at the time, and they questioned the port’s involvement and intentions, but if the Port hadn’t stepped in you have to wonder what would have happened to those dilapidated buildings and infrastructure,” Harlan said.

Harlan delivered that message on behalf of the Hood River Port Commission to about 100 people gathered in the auditorium at Hood River Valley High School. The Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce organized the noon event to provide an educational forum about waterfront planning for county residents. The Port held a second session that same evening.

Harlan said the Diamond project was accomplished without imposing higher taxes on area residents — and the Port wants to see the same methodology applied to the construction of a riverside park. But he said that won’t happen unless some of the Port’s developable parcels are preserved for commercial and light industrial uses.

“The reality on the waterfront is that if it doesn’t pencil, it’s not going to get built, and that applies to lodging facilities as well as parks and green space,” he said. “As the Diamond Cannery project illustrates, it’s the private side that creates jobs. But it’s the job of economic development entities such as the Port to set the table, to develop land and make the public investment needed to allow the private side to create jobs.”

Harlan said the Port is attempting to meet the recreational needs of the community by proposing that nearly 44 acres be used as park and landscaped open areas. That leaves just 32 acres for development and redevelopment — necessitating some flexibility with building sizes and spacing.

“Not enough height and density means lower land prices and fewer resources paying the cost of amenities,” said Harlan. “You’ve got to have floor space if you’re going to preserve and provide green space.”

For example, he said if a one-story building was allowed to occupy 30 percent of its lot to meet landscaping requirements, the developer would pay $26.78 per square foot. By adding a second story, Harlan said the same structure would cost $13.39 for the same footage. But with a third story Harlan said the price would be reduced to a more competitive rate of $8.93, which would attract higher quality projects.

He said waterfront development proposals in Portland and in the Canadian city of Vancouver outline that public trails and shaded streets should be paid with the construction of residential towers of up to 600 feet tall. He said Metro, the land-use regulatory body for Portland, is promoting this concept not only to finance amenities, but to protect the environment from sprawl.

“We are obviously not proposing these same heights on the Hood River waterfront but the principle remains the same: as the cost of public infrastructure rises, more development is needed to pay those costs,” said Harlan.

He said Metro also recommends allowing a mixture of complementary development, including housing, retail, offices, commercial services, as well as industrial and civic uses that link auto trips.

“The goal, according to Metro, is to provide flexibility that promotes efficient land-use while ensuring quality development,” said Harlan.

He said the Port has also attempted in its current planning to maximize the size of park space. He said when Western Power Products shut down in January of 2002, it created an opportunity to use that property for the park instead of the smaller Lot 6, which was more exposed to the elements. He said that move also efficiently tied the park to the riverside jetty known as the Hook and framed the western edge of the waterfront while the Event Site provided the eastern “bookend” for developable properties. He said these parcels would be linked by a paved trail that ran along the entire shoreline and, ultimately, had landscaped turnouts with public seating.

“From our perspective, Lot 7’s proximity to the Hook provides for a larger and more functional park area in terms of all potential users,” said Harlan. “Our task is to open a road to better opportunities and a better future for all of our constituents.”

The Port has handed off its conceptual drawings and the accompanying zoning proposal to the City of Hood River for consideration.

Lynn Guenther, city manager, told Thursday’s audience that those plans will be brought before the Planning Commission on Aug. 13 and the City Council on Sept. 8.

He said public comment would be taken at both hearings.

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