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ANOTHER VOICE: Nichols basin: all we ask for is ‘a reasonable settlement’

By FRIENDS OF THE HOOD RIVER WATERFRONT

When Friends of the Hood River Waterfront first heard about the settlement proposal for Nichols Basin that was advanced by Arthur Babitz and Jon Davies, we were encouraged and excited about the potential to shelve plans for the cable park and instead focus on a restoration and water access enhancement plan.

While we were surprised that this plan was publically announced before anyone ever talked to us about it, Friends nonetheless invited the attorneys for all the parties — the Naitos, the city, and the Port — to sit down and talk face-to-face to try to bring about a settlement that will benefit both the community and the Naitos.

The ideas proposed — such as permanent protection of public access to the Nichols Basin and use of urban renewal district financing to fund restoration and access enhancements — are promising, but turning them into a real and enforceable agreement will be tough work. The Naitos have made clear that, as a part of any settlement, they wanted Friends to drop our legal challenges to their commercial building, hotel, and parking lot.

While we are more than willing to sit down and negotiate a comprehensive resolution, it is essential that any agreement be clearly enforceable and negotiated in a credible and professional way. With two current lawsuits, two more potential lawsuits, and at least six parties, this settlement would be complex under the best of circumstances.

We think this work can be accomplished but only if there is a genuine desire to make this type of settlement a reality. Several key things will need to happen:

First, the city has been required to schedule a Nov. 19 Planning Commission hearing on the Naitos’ cable park application. Moving forward with a controversial public hearing would obviously be at odds with creating a climate where talks could be productive and where the parties can focus on settlement. The Naitos could agree to a temporary delay in the hearing. Or, since the Port owns the basin, it could simply withdraw its consent for the Naitos to seek a city permit for the cable park. We have asked the Port to do this.

Second, the Naitos have so far refused to agree to participate in a standard negotiation process in which the parties work confidentially toward a settlement that would itself be public. As anyone who has been through a legal settlement process knows, confidentiality encourages free exchange of ideas and is the foundation for a successful negotiation. Confidentiality breeds reasoned compromise and consensus. Any negotiated plan would of course be completely public, and would probably be subject to review by the city’s planning commission.

It was clear to anyone who attended the Port’s public meeting on the cable park last month that the majority of those who attended wanted to keep the basin open to all users. Friends sees similarly broad public support for a waterfront path that extends around the Basin and connects to the existing waterfront trail — rather than using the Naitos’ private deck as a substitute for a real waterfront path.

For many months, Friends has been clear that we believe the cable park, hotel and commercial building as currently proposed violate local, state and federal laws. Friends believes, however, that if we can sit down and have a professional and good faith settlement conversation, we can get to a place where everyone gets most of what they want. The real winner would be a legacy of public access to a restored and enhanced Boat Basin of which we can be proud.

The Friends of the Hood River Waterfront Board of Directors includes Derek Bell, Susan Crowley, Patrick Hiller, Corie Lohr and chair Linda Maddox. Susan Crowley is a former attorney and mediator, and both she and Maddox have served as chairs of the Hood River Planning Commission.

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