On Jan. 10, after months of public workshops, testimony, and analysis, Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) Executive Director Jill Arens has recommended approval of the proposed "recreation resort plan amendment."
The plan amendment would change the Management Plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area by adding rules to allow redevelopment of the largely abandoned Broughton Lumber Mill in Skamania County as a recreation resort.
The CRGC plans to hold a hearing on the proposed plan amendment on Feb. 12.
The amendment requires that any proposed resort development must conform to numerous restrictions and demonstrate that it will protect and enhance scenic, cultural, natural and recreation resources at the old mill site. It limits the bulk of resort development to the "existing industrial complex," and requires that it be designed to be visually unobtrusive from Gorge key viewing areas, and compatible with surrounding areas regarding impacts to traffic, and public services.
The amendment also would require overnight accommodations be oriented to short-term use and limits commercial activities at a future resort to those directly serving the needs of the guests, to help support businesses in nearby urban areas.
"This plan amendment is aimed at resolving a complex, challenging and totally unique situation -- to facilitate transformation of what is now an essentially obsolete and derelict industrial site in the middle of the Scenic Area to a publicly beneficial future use," said Arens. "Because of the unique circumstances, the plan amendment is narrowly crafted to apply to the Broughton site and does not set a precedent for similar developments in the future."
One of the key revisions Arens is recommending is that all of the overnight units have specific use restrictions to prevent them from being used as residences and rather provide short-term, recreational accommodations. The prior proposal had restrictions on most, but not all, of the units.
Arens explained that this change is needed to ensure that "any resort development supports the economy of nearby urban areas and does not become a new, de facto town."
Arens also is recommending eliminating a cap on the number of overnight units, instead relying on master plan requirements in the amendment to evaluate and mitigate potential impacts to resources at the site. Arens noted that the scale of development will also be controlled by requirements that the resort fit within the boundaries of the existing industrial complex, that building size and height to not exceed that of the existing mill buildings, and that the design must blend the buildings into the surrounding landscape.
In order to approve a plan amendment, the CRGC must find that conditions in the Scenic Area have changed significantly. Arens' report highlights the major and continued decline in the timber industry and the simultaneous rise in importance of tourism to the regional economy. She also provides new information highlighting how the old mill site likely contains contamination that could be difficult and costly to clean up, based on research of other abandoned Northwest lumber mills that were redeveloped.
The commission is accepting public comment on the director's recommendations up to Feb. 12, when the CRGC will hold a public hearing at the Best Western Hood River Inn in Hood River. Commissioners will consider whether to approve, change or deny the proposed plan amendment. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.
Comments can be submitted directly to the commission at www.gorgecommission.org, or to: Columbia River Gorge Commission, P.O. Box 730, White Salmon, Wash., 98672.