Friday, November 03, 2006

On the Waterfront

Debate about uses of Hood River's waterfront probably predates the city's incorporation. Going door-to-door I've heard a lot of opinions on the latest incarnation of this discussion: the Lot 6 waterfront park. There are the two major schools of thought:
  • We need to build this park for the future of our city.
  • How can we spend money on a park when our sewers are collapsing?
To me, development of this park is only a small part of the story. For years we've had an underutilized industrial park in our city's front yard. The City and the Port have butted heads, creating a difficult environment to make anything happen. For the first time in a long time I think the will is there to move forward-- carefully.

A little history: The Port of Hood River is a corporation chartered to promote the economic development of the port district-- initially by purchasing and maintaining the Hood River Bridge. They own much of the waterfront land, but the City controls zoning of those lands. City government answers to city voters, the Port answers to voters in the port district (most of Hood River County less Cascade Locks). City voters have expressed strong support for park development along the waterfront. Many county residents have been more interested in bringing industry to the area to generate jobs. These divided interests have been at the core of the conflict for many years.

It seems like we're finally seeing the elements of a compromise. City and port district residents both seem to see the value in mixed use development on much of the port lands-- and the dedication of a part of that land as a city park is the cornerstone of this compromise. I don't want to oversimplify the remaining challenges, but as the park moves closer to reality I think it will become easier to line up the political will to agree on the framework for developing the land near the park. Yes, there are funding issues, riparian protection issues, zoning and planning issues-- but the number of people arguing for 100% industrial development or against development of any sort seem to be dwindling. A compromise promises the aesthetic, environmental, and recreational aspects demanded by city voters, while providing the real economic benefit that empty industrial land has been unable to provide.

I've addressed the funding issues in the Hood River News and I'm sure we'll have plenty of additional chances to discuss the details, but for now I'll just make a sweeping prediction: the funding will happen, because so much more is involved than just a waterfront park. This is one of those rare instances where the actions we are taking will create a real legacy for the future residents of our city. Remember what the waterfront looks like now, because it will soon be history. Our job now is to make sure the end result will have been worth the wait.


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