Saturday, April 28, 2012
In the latest in a series of developments, Naito Development and Surround Architecture representative Mark Vanderzanden this week filed a request with the City of Hood River Planning Department to bifurcate the site plan review and conditional use permit application for a proposed hotel, commercial building, parking lot and cable park along the Hood River waterfront.
The request asks the planning department to separate elements of the original application into two applications — one for land-based developments and another for the in-water cable park — to be considered independently in the site plan review and CUP processes. The request comes after the planning commission, in a 3-2 vote at an April 16 hearing, took the uncertain stance that it should also evaluate water-based elements of the proposed project.
Even though the boat basin (where cable park activities would occur) is not zoned, and therefore does not have zoning criteria for the commission to base an evaluation on, the commission voted to assert jurisdiction over the entire project.
In the written bifurcation request to Planning Director Cindy Walbridge, the letter states, “As you know at the last hearing the Planning Commission voted to apply the City’s site plan review and conditional use permit standards to the cable park development located in the open-water area of the Nichols Boat Basin. Prior to that point we understood that City’s land use regulations did not apply to the cable park, yet we did address how the cable park satisfied the site plan and conditional use criteria. We would like the opportunity to submit additional evidence on the cable park issues only; however, we do not believe that the Hood River municipal code gives the City the authority to regulate or require permits for purely water-based uses such as the cable park.”
Despite the ambiguity of the commission’s decision to review the cable park proposal, Naito Development LLC is persisting with the process for what will now be two separate applications.
“We’re not withdrawing it (cable park proposal); we’re just splitting it into a separate application,” Bob Naito said Wednesday. “If the planning commission is going to evaluate the cable park proposal, we need time to get the facts about it into the record.”
The request also asks that the next public hearing yield a decision on the proposed upland development; namely the 88-room hotel, a two-story office building and a parking lot on 5.29 acres of property Naito Development owns at the south end of Nichols Boat Basin.
The letter reads, “With regard to the land-based application, please proceed toward the May 7 Planning Commission hearing, where we ask that the Planning Commission conclude that aspect of this project with a final decision. We hereby agree to extend the 120-day clock on the land-based development application by 30 days to allow for any subsequent appeal to the City Council on this application to be heard in the normal course.”
Although an applicant is not required to extend the 120-day timeline the commission has to make a decision, Naito is doing so out of regard to the public process. The planning commission’s decision can be appealed to the Hood River City Council, but only if it stays within the proper timeline.
“The principle we’ve been trying to adhere to throughout this process is that we’ll talk to anybody at any time about this project,” he said. “We don’t want the city or the public to not have the opportunity to go through the process.”
In dividing the cable park proposal into a separate application, the timeline would be reset when the new application is received and the record would be reopened, which would allow Naito Development to address issues raised at the previous public hearings and add new evidence to the record. It would also give proponents and opponents of the cable park another round of public meetings to raise their concerns.
“One important thing for people to know is that all of the letters and testimony we have received will be included with the cable park application,” said Walbridge said. “This approach will simplify things and allow the commission to concentrate on the upland issues, and then look at the cable park proposal separately.”
Walbridge says she hopes the commission will be able to make a decision on the upland portion of the application at the May 7 hearing. The timeline for the cable park application is uncertain, as the planning department has not yet received the site plan review and conditional use permit applications. When the applications are received and deemed complete, a new 120-day clock will begin for a decision to be made.
Depending on the commission’s decision, an appeal to the city council can be made by either the applicant or members of the public. In the case of the cable park, it appears likely that an appeal will be filed regardless of the decision. Naito would likely appeal in the event of a denial, while a citizen group formed to oppose the development — called Friends of the Hood River Waterfront — would likely appeal an approval of the project.
The city council approved one stipulation of the appeals process a couple of years ago; the appellant must pay a fee equal to the amount of the application fee for the project. In this case, an appeal of the upland portion of the project would cost $5,150. An appeal to the commission’s cable park decision would be $2,258, the same amounts Naito Development will have paid the planning department for submitting the application. Walbridge said that if the fee is paid and the city council rules in favor of the appellant, half of the fee is returned.
In a letter filed by FHRW attorney Brent Foster, the group cites an array of issues with the proposed development, including an argument that the appeals fee is excessive and prevents public involvement in the process.
Foster says, “This fundamentally undermines the ability of the public to engage and participate in the current land use process because, for a vast majority of the city’s residents, the appeal fee is completely unrealistic. The inability for the general public to have access to an appeal to the City Council because of the high price of an appeal deters public involvement. Since such an appeal is a prerequisite to a LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals) challenge, the unusually high appeal fees further limit the public’s access to review by LUBA or the courts.”
The letter also argues that the code does not provide a provision for low-income or nonprofit groups to request a fee waiver in order to be a part of the process regardless of financial backing.
In the case of the request for a fee waiver, Walbridge said the planning department is reviewing the matter.