Hood River’s planning commission on Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, will again take public comment about a proposal to rezone 5 acres of forested property at Wasco and 20th streets so it might be used for affordable multi-family housing.
As an updated city staff report notes, the city owns the land, and wants to rezone it to R-3 so it can entertain a development proposal that would likely include apartment buildings, yet retain some open space features.
In a 2005 intergovernmental agreement with the Hood River County Parks & Recreation District, the city agreed to use of the property as a disc golf course for 10 years, or “until such time as the city determines that the park space should be used for other purposes.”
The new staff report responds to a number of concerns brought forth by residents during a public hearing last fall.
In response to concerns about removal of open space, the staff report notes that since 1990, the city has added 55 acres of park or open space property. Much of that is along the Columbia River waterfront, and adjacent to the Indian Creek trail, which slices through the Heights neighborhood.
The report notes that the requested zone change at “Morrison Park” would be the first subtraction of open space for another use. The report further states that the governing body can designate new park space if it is the “greater need,” but cites several previous city decisions in support of a greater need to develop affordable housing. In support of that conclusion, staff references Strategy 3: Action 3.1 in the city’s Housing Strategy to identify publicly owned properties that could be used for affordable housing.
The need for more affordable housing gained clarity in 2015, during preparation of a Housing Needs Analysis and Buildable Lands Inventory. That discussion led to the city council’s adoption later that year of a Housing Strategy that contained three key initiatives. The third emphasized the goal of developing affordable housing.
In a Feb. 13 report to the Planning Commission, city Planning Director Cindy Walbridge addressed several assertions by speakers at the October public hearing.
One refrain spoke to concerns that multi-family development at “Morrison Park” would further concentrate low-income residents in a “ghetto” or “tenement” that stretches east and north of Wasco Street.
Politely declining to address the rhetorical equation of multi-family housing with “tenements,” Walbridge noted that there is more multi-family housing in the Heights than in the area north of Cascade Avenue.
She did note that much of the previous comment had a NIMBY quality to it — “yes, we support affordable housing, but Not In My Back Yard (Buzz editor’s phrasing, not hers).”
She said the skate park immediately south of the property propozed for rezoning would continue in park use for the neighborhood. She also said that higher-density housing at Wasco and 20th would put residents within easy walking distance of transit and shopping.
Joel Madsen, executive director of the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority, supports the zone change. Although he thinks there is a strong chance that his agency could gain an opportunity to develop affordable housing — much like it did at the Columbia Crossing project south of the Les Schwab tire store on West Cascade — he says there’s no guarantee.
“There’s nothing formal on what that development will be if it changes zoning,” he says.
“The discussion has been about how it could open a window for affordable housing. But theoretically, the city could sell it to the highest bidder for market-rate housing. There’s nothing that says the entire parcel will be developed, either. Part of it could be used for park space.”
He says he hopes his agency will get the chance to shape what takes place on that property.
“We want community engagement and ideas about what will work with the community, and that will shape the end product,” he says. “Not to mention that the city could put limits on the parcel as to how much could be developed.”
The city staff report noted that the high prices for rentals, and lack of available units, are presenting limits to business and employment growth in the city.
Madsen cited recent research from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis putting Hood River county among the top 10 percent of least affordable counties in the country.
That report said county residents pay 37 percent of their income, on average, for housing. Lenders typically use a 30 percent limit on housing costs to qualify loan applicants.
“What is sad is that people say they support the need for affordable housing, but they oppose it at that location,” he said in reference to the Morrison Park property.
The Planning Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall, 211 Second St.