City weighs resource protection against property rights

The Hood River City Council is concerned that a move to protect natural resources could devalue some private properties.

Last week, the elected body directed staffers to compile more information about the range of restrictions that could be imposed under the Goal 5 mapping process. That state land-use planning rule seeks to inventory and preserve wetlands, riparian areas and wildlife habitat within the city limits and urban growth boundary. However, it could also restrict the allowable use on some parcels.

If special protection measures are adopted, “significant” sites of one-half of an acre or larger would be off-limits for many earth moving activities. The removal of vegetation would also be restricted and that measure would extend even to stands of poisonous species. Additional setbacks would move building activities farther away from key waterways.

Although the Division of State Lands requires the city to identify parcels within the three designations, local officials want more information on the range of protection measures they can adopt. They also want a tally of the private properties that could be affected by any action. That data will be reviewed at the July 14 meeting of the elected body.

Mayor Paul Cummings contends that one of the “streams” listed on Hood River’s new map is, in reality, an irrigation ditch. He professed difficulty accepting an inventory that was based primarily on topographical maps and site visits allowed by willing landowners. He said there had been no scientific studies done to determine where wildlife lived within the city and what protection measures were actually needed for resources.

“It seems ironic to me that the state wants this mapping done at the same time it is trying to achieve higher density living within cities,” said Cummings.

Theresa North, city planning commissioner, told council members that the project could serve as a “good educational tool” about the importance of resource preservation.

“It seems like we could make this a very positive thing for the city,” she said.

But several of the elected officials voiced concern about how positive an ordinance could be that created hardship for some property owners. They also expressed doubt about taking extra steps to protect streams in urban areas that already traveled through a series of culverts.

“I think if we want to do this the public has a responsibility to step up and buy these properties,” said Councilor Chuck Haynie.

He also pointed out that potential problems were likely from encouraging raccoons, possums and coyotes to live near domestic animals and humans.

“In some sense we don’t want these critters in town because they are pests,” said Haynie.

Oregonians in Action, a private property rights advocacy group, contends the city does not have to enforce Goal 5 regulations. The group said that the state is not allowed to levy sanctions for “noncompliance.” However, Joel Shaich of Wetland Consulting, the Portland-based firm hired to do the local study, said the state could be “less inclined” to give out grant dollars for future planning efforts if the city failed to take action. City attorney Alexandra Sosknowski said there is also a possibility the municipality could be sued by the state for not adopting protection measures.

“What would the decrease in assessed valuation of private property be if we passed an ordinance like this?” asked Haynie and Cummings.

Shaich said a “safety valve” procedure was in place to grant a variance to any landowner who had property rendered unbuildable by the ordinance. He said some landowners could develop in wildlife areas by spending $1,000-$10,000 to design a habitat plan.

“It’s pretty much a site specific thing and there probably will be some properties through this ordinance that will cost more to develop,” he said.

Last fall, the Department of Land Conservation and Development gave the city a $30,000 grant to complete the inventory. A technical advisory committee worked with Shaich to determine “significant” sites within the three categories. That panel included Jennifer Donnelly, city senior planner, Anne Debbaut, county associate planner, Jurgen Hess, chair of the city’s greenspace committee, John Everitt, vice-chair of the city planning commission, Holly Coccoli from the Hood River Watershed Council, Bonnie Lamb, Department of Environmental Quality, Jeff Hunter, local real estate associate, and Steve Pribyl, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In November, the city sent out more than 300 letters to landowners who could have their property subjected to a “sensitive site” overlay zone and protective setbacks.

However, Donnelly told the council at the June 23 meeting that the attendance at a recent public forum to unveil the draft map was only a fraction of that number.

The elected body was concerned that many citizens are still unaware of the potential effects of Goal 5 regulations. They decided to take extra time to study the issue before moving forward.

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