Hood River Port Plan

Hood to Hook, balanced planning can meld aesthetics and economics

The mixed-use zoning idea put forth by the Port of Hood River for the publicly-owned waterfront property is the best way to make some sense out of a landscape of scattered buildings, open space, beach areas, and private and public facilities.

This year’s radio waves brought a revival of “Big Yellow Taxi,” the Joni Mitchell-penned ode to environmental care.

The song came out more than 30 years ago, which is about how long the community has debated plans for extensive waterfront development from the Hood River west to the Hook.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” the famous “Big Yellow Taxi” refrain, does not apply. For one thing, there’s already plenty of parking lot down there. What stands out about the Port property in question is that the human footprint is already apparent. As it stands, the footprints seem to go every-which-way.

Protecting the property’s scenic resources is of deep concern to critics of a port plan that involves a hotel and other economic entities arrayed near the Expo Center, sewage treatment facility, Luhr Jensen and Sons plant, and the old Western Power building. The road to the Hook is one of Hood River’s most-traveled between May and September.

There is no shortage of concern for protecting the riverfront’s natural qualities in the latest iteration of the Port’s proposal for waterfront development. The Port understands that the waterfront needs to remain a playground. Details such as building heights and riverside development setbacks are workable areas of dispute.

A 45-foot setback such as that of the Best Western Inn versus the 125 feet envisioned by others can be massaged to meet the range of needs. Increasing allowable building heights to 55-60 feet will not affect most buildings; yet view corridors need to be respected as much as possible.

The Heights Business Association deserves credit for making the case last week for the city and port holding a public forum specifically on Port development. It will be a good idea to get everyone to a baseline set of information about what is involved; the Port should set that meeting as soon as possible — especially in light of what is sure to be a full and hectic summer for issues facing the community: casino, Mt. Hood development, Wal-Mart and the waterfront.

On the waterfront, reaching compromise is like the art of kiteboarding: the wind collaborates, rather than competes, with tethered sailcloth to produce motion and excitement. There is room for more than one passion there. Those who favor open space and park uses for the waterfront won’t necessarily be disappointed by a well-thought mixed use plan devised after ample public input. Those who place a higher priority on economic development of the shoreline should be able to see the value of keeping the area attractive to windsurfers and kiters, joggers and walkers, as well as overnight guests who want a pleasant room near both the water and the freeway.

The waterfront’s recreational quotient must be maintained, but it bears pointing out that parkland and open areas already exist: the Event Site and Marina Park are not affected by this proposal.

The time has come for all parties to work with the City of Hood River in getting the zoning designated, and with the Port in deciding how to enact land use that accomodates the landowners’ return on investment and the landscape’s aesthetic needs.

Whatever the development plan, compatibility with the community is paramount. However, right now the waterfront area as a whole is close to becoming an eyesore. Using as a starting point its purchase last year of the land at the north end of 2nd Street — the waterfront’s gateway — the Port should continue to take charge of an opportunity now to transform the city’s long-neglected front yard.

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