Commentary: Hood River County Commission makes wrong decision on DeeTour proposal

If you think that Oregon land use laws mean anything, you’re mistaken. At least if you live in Hood River County.

I attended a Hood River County Board of Commissioner’s Meeting on June 15. I was perplexed at that meeting by their decision to allow the permitting of a destination music amphitheater in a rural area. 

The Commissioners made that decision without due consideration to state law, with no apparent concern for the best overall interests of county residents, and with a dismissive attitude toward those who argued against it. The issue at question was whether or not the Board of Commissioners should allow the developer, Apollo Land Holdings, Inc., a fourth extension on its permit to build a music amphitheater on land previously occupied by the Dee Mill. The original permit, issued in 2014, was allowed based on a faulty understanding of state law at that time. No one argues that point. The Hood River County Planning Commission, the County Commissioners, and even the developer, are all well aware of the fact that the decision made in 2014 did not adhere to state law.

The Commissioners had an opportunity at the meeting on June 15 to correct that earlier mistake. Regrettably, they chose not to do the right thing in that regard. Instead, they decided to align themselves with the developer. 

Notably, one of the county commissioners, Bob Benton, has a financial interest in Apollo Land Holdings. He acknowledged his conflict of interest and did not vote on the matter. However, his influence over other members of the Board and the Planning Commission is a cause for concern. 

For instance, one of the planning commissioners, A.J. Kitt, who was nominated to the Planning Commission by Mr. Benton, had numerous business dealings with Mr. Benton. Kitt did not disclose this relationship when, in a previous vote, he voted for the amphitheater. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is now investigating Kitt for his perceived breach of public responsibility in that regard. 

The Commissioners also decided to ignore resident input, which weighed very heavily against the amphitheater. Objectors mentioned issues such as increased traffic in a farming area, potential safety issues due to drunk driving, concerns over having to put up with loud music throughout the Hood River Valley, and much more.

The Commissioners also chose not to take seriously the well-researched legal arguments that were put forth by residents who objected. One of the Commissioners even made snide remarks about the inputs of one of those opposed. Her comments were both offensive and inappropriate in a public forum.

The question I have to ask is, why would the County Commissioners be so willing at that meeting on June 15 to perpetuate past errors rather than to correct them? Why did they make the decision that they did, which flies in the face of state law and resident input? 

Why could they not, instead, have corrected the earlier mistake made and hold public hearings on the matter, as required by state law?

They could have, but they chose not to. 

Again, I have to ask why. 

For now, unless the opposing parties have some other way to stop an amphitheater from being developed in that rural area, then those people who live and work throughout Hood River Valley will be wearing earplugs whenever the music starts. They will also need to dodge more traffic on narrow farm roads and will have to brace themselves for more traffic incidents. 

Pat Case lives in the Oak Grove area south of Hood River.

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