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Scenic Plan Amendment Hit From Both Sides

Draft released for resorts

After months of consideration, the Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) has released a draft proposal for amendments to the "Recreation Resort Plan Amendment" section of the National Scenic Area Management Plan.

Highlighting the unique nature of the planning amendments, the proposal has incorporated a new objective for the Scenic Area Management Plan. In Part III, Chapter 3, the section entitled "Scenic Resources Enhancement Strategies," lists the following new goal: "Provide incentives to convert existing industrial complexes to uses more consistent with the purposes of the Scenic Area Act and land use designation."

In Part II, Chapter 6, the amendment gets specific relative to the proposed "Broughton Landing Resort," which would be created out of the former Broughton Mill site west of Underwood.

Among some of the key points in this section:

The total number of accommodation units and campground site shall not exceed 210.

The average size of accommodation units shall not exceed 1,000 square feet;

80 percent of all accommodation units shall have use restrictions that prevent full-time occupancy;

Gas stations, banks, grocery stores, or other services commonly found in urban areas or catering to the traveling public shall not be permitted; and

Buildings shall not exceed two and a half stories in height.

Those specifics, however, impose limitations that may make the proposed development of the Broughton industrial site unfeasible.

According to Jason Spadaro, president of SDS Lumber Co. and a partner in the Broughton Landing proposal, those conditions would essentially kill the project.

"The way they propose it, it's not going to happen," Spadaro said on Tuesday. "It's not a viable project. They are proposing a smaller footprint; smaller area; more restrictions on the way the units are occupied, owned, and managed; more studies. They've burdened it up to where it just won't work. At this point, it would be a very high risk project."

On the opposite side of the issue, leaders of Portland-based Friends of the Columbia Gorge indicated they believed the proposed amendments allow too much development. Friends spotlighted their opposition to the proposed changes on their organization's Web site with the following statement, which currently appears at the top of the organization's Web site: "Despite months of public outcry, the Columbia River Gorge Commission is going ahead with an amendment to change the Gorge-wide management plan to allow a destination resort in the National Scenic Area," it reads. "The amendment would open the National Scenic Area to an unprecedented scale of development by allowing 210 residential and vacation homes just west of White Salmon."

Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Gorge, said the Broughton resort proposal could have a major impact on the area.

"Our take has been, this is a huge leap from what's currently allowed," Gorman said. "It would be an exemption for a private developer, when a lot of private landowners do not get that kind of treatment. Making special considerations for one developer does not seem like that's the role for the Gorge Commission. It's a fairness issue."

Gorman added that Friends does support redevelopment of the site -- depending on the scale.

"It's all about the scope and size of it," Gorman explained. "We'd love to find a solution that works for everyone, but we're not there right now. It's a site that has great potential, but how do we do that and not mess up what is a great recreational area for so many people?"

The Web site created by proponents of the Broughton plan -- www.broughtonlanding.com -- offers a grand vision of what the resort project could be: "The proposed Broughton Landing project is unique. Nowhere else in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area does the opportunity exist to convert a derelict eyesore into an attractive Mecca for outdoor recreation," it reads. "Please take a moment, send a letter, and urge the Gorge Commission to develop a Plan Amendment that achieves its own goals by allowing sufficient development activity to make the project succeed."

Spadaro said he hopes the Gorge Commissioners will allow the former mill site to be developed due to the many benefits it could bring to the Scenic Area.

"They recognize the benefits to recreation, tourism, and cultural interpretation, but they are afraid to make a significant change to the Management Plan," Spadaro explained. "This would help develop the area's tourism economy, would support the urban areas of Bingen, White Salmon, and Stevenson, and help diversify the tax base of Skamania County. They should want this to be a viable project, not water it down and make it mediocre. If there is a resort in the Scenic Area, we should all want it to succeed."

Spadaro said he wants the Gorge Commission to review the proposed amendments and make alterations that will allow the resort plan to move forward in a way that makes economic sense for its backers.

"I'm hoping they will look at this seriously and make changes," he said. "Otherwise, the last two years of effort will have been wasted. We'll see. It's down to crunch time."

Gorman pointed out that Friends is keeping the channels open with proponents of the resort.

"After the last Gorge Commission meeting, we talked with Jason [Spadaro] and will try to get together again. There is good communication, but we haven't yet been able to agree," Gorman said.

Spadaro urged supporters to contact the Gorge Commission with comments.

"I encourage the public in the local community, if they believe as I do that there are benefits to our area and economy with our plan, submit comments to the Columbia River Gorge Commission," Spadaro said. "Stand up and make your voices heard. That's the only way the Gorge Commission is going to do the right thing."

Brian Litt, planning manager for the CRGC, said the commissioners are hearing from all sides on the proposed amendments.

"We're getting a lot of comments, which is good," Litt said. "We've heard a diversity of opinions -- that the proposal is too big and allows too much development, to that it is way too restrictive. We'll continue to review the comments, and we're going to continue to accept comments and testimony as long as we can."

Litt added that the next CRGC meeting is at the Rock Creek Recreation Center in Stevenson on Oct. 9. He pointed out that the proposed amendments to the Management Plan will be an agenda item, and he encouraged the public to come to the meeting and offer their views.

The CRGC's vote on the Management Plan proposal is not expected until December at the earliest.

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