Dirt piles mark the site of a proposed hotel and commercial building project at the south end of Nichols basin on the Hood River waterfront.
Photo by Ben McCarty.
Since April the Port has been engaged in a lengthy process to determine whether to lease a portion of the Nichols Boat Basin to NBW LLC, a private developer, for operation of a cable park.
We have held multiple informational sessions, at which the developer, proponents and opponents presented their perspectives. We conducted a lengthy public hearing to insure maximum public input and participation. To date, the Port has received more than 1,300 separate communications. Many significant issues have been thoughtfully brought forth and discussed. Such public discussion is appropriate for a high-profile, publicly owned property such as the Nichols Basin.
The implications of a cable park have spurred strong opinions both for and against the project. Legitimate arguments have been made by both sides. In an attempt to resolve this escalating conflict Mayor Arthur Babitz and I recently proposed an esplanade concept as a compromise.
The idea was based on three key points: 1) the cable park is not built; 2) the hotel lawsuits go away and; 3) all parties work together to conceive of a vision for the Nichols Basin that includes public walkways, water access and habitat restoration. Our idea was, and still is, that community agencies, such as the Urban Renewal Agency, could reflect public concerns in collaborating on a plan. Improvements under the plan would be financed with increased property tax receipts from the hotel and commercial building development. If the development does not go forward, the esplanade concept cannot advance or would be significantly delayed.
A broad mix of community interests applauded the collaborative plan. Unfortunately, the Friends of the Waterfront and Naito Development have been unable to resolve their differences over the smaller issues regarding the upland development of the hotel and commercial building. This stalemate has occurred, in part, because the Friends insisted that any discussions be confidential. While confidential negotiations are common for legal settlements, in this case, a more open discussion seems reasonable. The legal complaints about building setback, pathway and storm water runoff started in a public forum (planning commission, and in court documents).
Out of fairness to the entire community any “deal” should include the larger audience of the general public. The public has a right to view the terms and conditions sought by both sides, judge their merits and provide the public input that is the foundation for good decision-making.
Since the basin esplanade plan is stalled, the Port has an obligation to vote on the original question of the cable park proposal. On Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. we will meet to vote and answer the question: “Should the Port enter negotiations with NBW regarding their cable park proposal?” This is not a vote to approve the details of their plan, merely a first step to decide if a cable park is in the best interests of our community.
If the decision is “no,” the concept of a cable park in the Nichols Basin is effectively over. Under this scenario, lawsuits may continue to block the hotel project for a long time. If the answer is “yes,” those same lawsuits will certainly continue and will quite possibly be accompanied by new lawsuits. Both courses of action could stymie substantial progress at the Nichols Basin. Hood River could face years of further contention. This should be unacceptable to everyone.
One of the core values of the Port of Hood River is stewardship. This means that we are responsible for the long-term safekeeping of public assets. The opportunity now is to apply the value of stewardship to craft the future of the Nichols Basin. We are ready to begin. However, all parties need to participate openly and in a constructive manner. Legal positioning and posturing do not allow the process to go forward.
I call on the Friends and the NBW to resolve their conflict for the good of the waterfront and the community. If not, we may miss a real opportunity to transform a neglected industrial site into an active, economic and environmentally significant community asset.
Jon Davies is president of the Port of Hood River Commission.