ANOTHER VOICE: Odell: Measure before you cut

By POLLY WOOD and HEATHER STATEN

Feb. 14 is the deadline for commenting on the County’s initial presentation for drawing a boundary for the Unincorporated Community of Odell. We appreciate the time and resources the county has put into the presentation and now is a critical time to voice your opinions, concerns and visions for the future of Odell as it will affect our whole Valley.

Three different boundary suggestions are posted on the Hood River County website. But don’t let the proposed options corral your thinking. Focus on the puzzle pieces of the Odell community. Planning must come first.

The county is required to plan for areas like Odell in accordance with the Unincorporated Community Rule OAR Chapter 660, Division 22: “Counties shall adopt individual plan and zone designations reflecting the projected use for each property (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial, public) for all land in each community.”

Notice “plan” comes first in this rule. So to draw any boundary first and figure out zoning afterwards seems sort of backwards, like cutting before you measure.

To plan well, you need to inventory what you’ve got before you can decide what you want. The county has presented three boundary options — small, medium and large — sized at 664, 1,040 and 1,377 acres respectively. The smallest one would take 95 acres out of exclusive farm use (EFU); the largest would remove 816 acres from EFU.

More specifics are needed about the acreage of all current uses in each hypothetical boundary to give citizens a starting point when considering long-term change in their community. What is the percent of not only EFU, but industrial, commercial, high- and low-density residential, and open space lands in each proposal? What are the soil classifications of the EFU lands under consideration?

It may be easier to move and modify the “puzzle pieces” if we have more measurable starting points.

No doubt Odell is growing, exceeding the 10 percent state growth rate. According to the 2010 census, the population is 2,255, about twice the size of the City of Cascade Locks. While Odell has some of the most affordable housing in the county, most of it is fully occupied with a near-0 percent residential vacancy rate.

The packing houses and the county have emphasized the need for workforce housing and multi-family dwelling to accommodate employees that currently live outside the community. But we must make sure we are making the changes in the right order for the right reasons.

Making more land available for residential does not, on its own, lead to more workforce housing. How can we make sure the boundary expansion yields low and moderate income housing and not $500,000 second homes for out-of-towners?

Drawing a boundary is not enough; appropriate zoning combined with economic incentives are needed to ensure our best intentions lead to the desired results. It is a complex problem with lots of moving parts.

We encourage you to be part of the process. Along with your opportunity to send comments now, the County will hold a second public meeting sometime in February. After taking this input, staff will craft a proposal that will be then presented to the Board of Commissioners in a more formal hearing process where there will also be opportunities for public input.

Comments can be sent to: County Planner, Josette Griffiths, at josette.griffiths@co.hood-river.or.us.

The mission of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee is to protect farm and forest land and the livability of its rural and urban communities. In this process, it is important that we work together to achieve a boundary solution for Odell that balances the need for more residential inventory with the protection of productive agricultural land.

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Polly Wood is president and Heather Staten vice president of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee.

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