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‘Stick to the Westside plan’

At Council meeting, supporters speak up for affordable housing

PLANNING director Cindy Walbridge, center, speaks Monday about the “thread” that holds together Westside Concept Plan. With her are finance director Will Norris, city manager Steve Wheeler and city recorder Jennifer Gray.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
PLANNING director Cindy Walbridge, center, speaks Monday about the “thread” that holds together Westside Concept Plan. With her are finance director Will Norris, city manager Steve Wheeler and city recorder Jennifer Gray.

Speakers rose in defense of the City of Hood River’s pending Westside Concept Plan during public comment Monday, and City Council members mulled over how to communicate the need for the plan as a long-range approach to meeting affordable housing goals.

“Keep keeping on” with the WCP, Joel Madsen told the council. Madsen, as director of the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority, is a partner in the city’s ongoing efforts to form strategies to meet the city’s top goal of providing affordable housing for low- and middle-income residents. The WCP, among other things, proposes doing away with Residential 1 zoning and allowing for greater density as a way to meet that goal.

Opponents of WCP repeatedly spoke on the issue at the June 12 council meeting.

This week, supporters gave their side.

“Stick to the plan,” Providence Health System employee Gladys Rivera told the council. “This directly affects me. Right now I am homeless,” said Rivera, who is living with family members.

“WCP is a social commitment that continues to make Hood River special,” said Leti Valle of The Next Door, Inc., the largest social services agency in the county. “Many people want to ‘keep things the way they are.’ But change is the only constant.”

“Please, please allow me and others to have a chance at affordable housing so we can afford to live where we work,” Rivera said. “I should be able to live in the community where I work.”

See page A8 for details of Monday’s meeting, and page A5 for information on the June 28 Planning Commission meeting.

In other business:

• City manager Steve Wheeler announced that the job advertisement for city planning director has been posted, and interviews will happen in August for finding a successor to Cindy Walbridge, who will retire in October.

• Sue Powers of Hood River was appointed to Planning Commission. Council interviewed her along with applicants Brian Becker and Robert Schuppe. Powers, a 14-year area resident, works as materials manager at HR Distillers, and has two grown children. She has an MBA from Portland State University and held a term on the Oregon Investment Board through Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.

“Hood River doesn’t have a lot of room to grow, so it’s got to grow well,” said Powers, who added that while she has a “keen interest” in economic development, she has little exposure to planning matters.

“I have so little background it means I don’t have any preconceived assumptions,” Powers said.

• Council Member Megan Saunders reported that a public-private working group looking at the future of the Children’s Park play structure planned to meet for the second time on June 27, and is working at forming a timeline for a review of options, with the main one being replacement of the wooden structure. A public meeting to take input is planned within a couple of weeks, according to Saunders.

• Council authorized Council Member Peter Cornelison and city staffers to write a letter Tuesday morning stating the city’s opposition to planned sale of oil storage tanks and facilities at Port Westward to Global Partners’ for its oil-by-rail and ethanol terminal.

“This is a direct threat to us,” Cornelison told his fellow council members. “It could yield two or more oil train through the Gorge each day.” The three-paragraph letter, to Oregon Public Utility Commission, joins similar opposition by the City of Portland, Multnomah County and others, and would be sent Tuesday morning to a hearing in Portland on the proposed sale. The city will attach a copy of its resolution opposing fossil fuel transport through the Gorge, passed in early 2016.

In Multnomah County’s letter, provided to the council, John Wasiutynski of the Sustainability Office states “the sale is not in the public interest because it will increase the risk of a major oil train disaster in Oregon, the results of which could include damage to life, property and/or the environment.”

Wasiutynski notes that “the derailment, explosion and fire in Mosier, Ore., just over a year ago demonstrate the dramatic impact and real risks that this industry poses to Oregon.”

Westside Plan

Gladys Rivera was one of eight people to speak Monday in support of the WCP.

“I am a single mom, fully employed and I cannot afford to live in Hood River,” said Rivera, who has a double insight to the problem: her work at Providence Health is connecting clients to social services, and she sees the strain on families who cannot find or afford housing.

Linda Maddox advocated sticking with existing zoning

“Think very carefully what you are doing,” Maddox said. “If you have lots of housing you have to have lots of jobs.”

Cindy Walbridge, city planning director, said of the WCP, “It is all based on facts that we don’t need to reinvent,” referring to the city’s 2015 Housing Needs Analysis and Building Needs Inventory, which formed the basis of the WCP.

She said senior planner Kevin Liburdy has prepared a new presentation for Wednesday’s PAC meeting.

“Everything is there, it is all threaded,” Walbridge said. “It’s all there to see and it’s not getting communicated.” She added, “maybe we need a community vision survey.”

“We’ve been building on this for a long time. I feel very passionate about it,” Walbridge said.

Guy Tauscher, a county resident, said “sometimes criticism is being leveled for the wrong reasons.

“I don’t think Hood River is going to be the same community. I think it’s going to be a better community,” he said.

His wife, Karin, an NDI employee, said, “I work with many families who can’t afford housing. I’d like for us to take care of how we do growth in Hood River, but also realize we do need more high density housing.”

Mark Thomas of Providence told the council, “Stick to your goals for affordability.

“We really need to continue to advocate for work force and affordable housing, as our regional Community Health Improvement Plan addresses the impact of affordable housing on peoples’ health.

“Our affection for this place is at risk,” Thomas said. “What we value most is not the scenic beauty or the recreational opportunities, as important as they are. It’s that sense of community we value in Hood River.”

He urged the council to “become curious of what the ingredients are: diversity in terms of socio-economic status.”

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