City could scuttle inn lobby riparian zone

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

September 27, 2006

The Hood River Planning Commission has asked the City Council to consider removing a riparian protection zone from the lobby of a waterfront hotel.

However, the appointed body wants to ensure that new construction at the Best Western Hood River Inn will not damage resources.

The commission has forwarded the terms of a new plan to the council for review. At least one member of the appointed body is not entirely pleased about the current proposal that the boundary be scaled back from 75 feet to 21 feet.

Therefore, the commission is also requesting that a discussion take place on tying new ground-disturbing activity to the planting of native vegetation. The requirement for mitigation was dropped in a previous plan because it was felt to be unenforceable due to limited manpower.

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, the council will look at reducing the current setback from 75 feet to 21 feet. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the municipal courtroom at the junction of Second and State streets.

The existing boundary intended to meet the state Goal 5 planning rule incorporates Riverside Grill and its outside deck. The northern section of CEBU Bamboo Lounge is also included, along with the north-facing rooms along the west wing.

When the city imposed the setback in January, Tom Stevenson threatened a lawsuit or Measure 37 claim to protect his economic interests. He wanted the ability to move the swimming pool to another location, which is no longer allowed. He also stated the need to amend the structure if dictated by market conditions and creating a new footprint is also off-limits.

Stevenson contends that even Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development officials, when helping draft a prior protection plan, recognized the site was heavily used for recreational purposes and had little natural resources.

In addition, the business pays almost $400,000 annually in property and lodging taxes. And each guest is estimated to spend an average of $150 per day shopping and recreating in the area — thereby contributing to other businesses.

Stevenson expressed disbelief that the city would jeopardize the financial security of the Inn — especially when it was facing a budget deficit.

“To attach all these concerns to a fully developed parcel is irresponsible,” he reiterated at the Sept. 20 meeting.

For the past nine months, Stevenson has put any legal move on hold to negotiate the terms of a new Goal 5 plan. He joined Bob Francis, city manger, in the belief that differences could be addressed outside of a courtroom.

However, Stevenson made it clear last week that little if any change would be tolerated to the recent agreement.

“We’re happy to go along with what’s in front of you. But, to be honest, if this doesn’t go through council we’re going to go in another direction,” he said.

Stevenson delivered those words as debate arose over the potential problems of reducing the setback to 21 feet. That distance matched the northwest corner of the restaurant that was closest to the embankment. Stevenson and city staffers concurred that should be the beginning point of the amended boundary, in spite of the fact it prevented any expansion of the Riverside Grill deck, which sits 10-12 feet from the shoreline.

“At a staff level we felt overall that the proposed changes would not result in less protection,” said Alexandra Sosnkowski, city attorney.

“I think we’ve negotiated in good faith and staff’s done a good job,” said Stevenson.

Commissioner Kate McBride disagreed with the new setback proposal. She said the City Council had already reduced the setback once. She was concerned that limiting it even further would bring development closer to the river.

“I guess my take is that there was a reason we recommended 100 feet and there was a reason they went with 75 feet. And I feel that 21 feet is not enough,” said McBride.

Resident Linda Maddox, one of two citizens at the Sept. 20 meeting, agreed with McBride.

“I think this compromise is too generous,” she said. “We live along one of the greatest rivers in this country and I’m concerned about the resources and any kind of degradation to the riverbank.

Commissioner Scott Kaden said the 13.38 acres east of the toll bridge, also primarily owned by the Stevenson family, had already been largely built-out. And the Inn had been constructed 40 years ago on fill material atop a rip-rap bank.

“I think it’s a heavily modified landscape with limited resource value,” he said.

Stevenson also reminded the planning commission that no setback was in place near the vacant Nichols Boatworks. In fact, he said the edge of the channel had recently been rezoned for commercial use, which included residences.

In January, city officials settled on the 75-foot setback as a “compromise” between the original Goal 5 plan — which put the Inn under no setback — and the demand for at least a 200-foot boundary by citizen activists.

In March 2005, the Preserve the Waterfront political action committee brought Measure 14-22 before the city’s 3,381 registered voters. About 36 percent of the referendum ballots were returned with 747 voters in favor of throwing out the custom Goal 5 plan.

Within days after the passage of the measure, the Attorney General’s office rendered the opinion that the vote was illegal.

However, the planning commission factored the “will of the voters’ into its subsequent review process. And that led the group to decide that no new permanent development should occur within a uniform 100-foot swath along the Columbia.

The council then decided a 75-foot setback would ensure adequate protection. But that decision immediately drew fire from Stevenson because of the restrictions on his business.

He was not opposed last week to the idea of mitigating any new development. However, he said the grounds of the Inn were already being landscaped. So, that led him to question if new plantings would be required anyway — or whether a credit would be given.

“We are already mitigating, the buildings are already in place and putting rooms in front of rooms is not our plan,” said Stevenson.

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