Another voice: Don't let Naito building break up trail view

March 17, 2012

On March 19 Naito Development LLC's application for a hotel, commercial building and cable park at Nichols Boat Basin comes before the Hood River City Planning Commission. So far public controversy has focused on the cable park, but that's not the only issue at stake.

The developer is legally required to construct a Pedestrian Access Way (PAW) across its property. The city and port have long envisioned a continuous multi-use path running the length of the entire Hood River waterfront. This property is the vital middle link in the chain connecting the east side of the waterfront (the pedestrian bridge, the marina and access to downtown) and the west side (the proposed top-of-bank path along the west side of the boat basin, the Event Site and Waterfront Park).

Naito's chosen route for the path mars what is otherwise a very fine development plan. As you can see on the site plan, Naito has located the path to the south of the commercial building along the new private road.

Rather than the visual splendor of the boat basin, Columbia River and Washington hills, the developers have chosen to give the public an up-close and personal view of the freeway and their 234-space parking lot. This is the only instance from the Hook to the Hood River Inn where a building comes between a walker and the water.

The developer contends that we can use the decks of the commercial building as a public access way. But in real life, they won't function like that; the impression will be of walking onto private property.

Café seating is planned for the restaurant and coffee shop. Most pedestrians will feel uncomfortable picking their way through a forest of tables in order to navigate around the building. I don't imagine that the decks will welcome bikes, roller skaters or even my big wet dog.

I encourage everyone to go visit the site. The qualitative difference between a waterside route and a freeway view is hard to understand from looking at a plan, but strikingly obvious when on the ground. If you aren't able to get there, I've made a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWd9dEF1V-0) that gives an impression of the different experiences on both paths.

Normally I hesitate to dictate to a private landowner, but the Naito property at Nichols Boat Basin is unique. It is the only piece of privately owned land in a mile-long stretch of waterfront. The rest of the waterfront is owned by "we the people" through the Port of Hood River.

Because of its singular status, the Naito lot has a quasi-public function in ensuring the continuity of our waterfront experience.

Additionally, to complete their project, the developers rely on a large degree of public cooperation: one-third of their parking lot will be on publically owned land (ODOT and the port are both leasing parcels to them) and of course, the 9 acres of water they would like to lease from the port for their cable park.

This sort of public/private cooperation in development is to be highly encouraged, but as in any negotiation, each side has interests it needs to protect. In this case, we need to protect our investment in the waterfront.

Through the port and the city, the public has spent millions of dollars with more aggressive investment yet to come as Lot 1 is developed and the city pursues its urban renewal plan ($5.5 million in the next six years).

The developers will tend to look at this from the angle of "What is the cheapest and easiest way to meet the city's requirements for a pedestrian access way?" But we should look at it differently.

This project is just one link in a long chain that will become the Hood River waterfront experience. We have the opportunity to make it an exhilarating chain of recreational, cultural and commercial attractions connected by beautiful paths that showcase our magnificent natural setting. But it takes getting all the pieces right.

We should recognize that the success of the whole is dependent on creating the right parts with the right linkages. The path across the boat basin should be considered in relation to its compatibility with both the existing waterfront trails and with our aspirations for the future.

I encourage everyone to weigh in with the planning commission and also to share your thoughts with the Port of Hood River.

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