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Pendleton city councilors vent about river quarter plan

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on July 26, 2018 11:32AM


For the past several months, Sign Men owner Ed Miltenberger and a group of Court Avenue business owners have been going to Pendleton City Council and Pendleton Planning Commission meetings to complain about the lack of action on the Pendleton River Quarter.

The council didn’t take any action Tuesday, but some members started to publicly share Miltenberger’s frustration over a lack of movement on the issue.

The 2010 River Quarter Enhancement Plan, which covers Court Avenue from Southwest First Street to Southwest 10th, uses land use laws to encourage multi-story apartments, retail stores and restaurants along the Umatilla River.

Despite a $100,000 incentive to build in the river quarter, a lack of new development prompted an advisory committee to recommend scrapping the plan in 2015 and starting over.

The council instead decided to revise the plan instead of repealing it, but little has changed in the ensuing three years.

Miltenberger has long opposed the plan and thinks it’s stifling new business.

“The river quarter is probably a great name for it,” he said. “But other than that, it’s a big boondoggle that was probably brought up by people who did not want to participate with me from the very beginning.”

Some councilors echoed Miltenberger’s frustration with the drawn-out process.

“We’ve got a real mess and it’s because people’s issues are not being addressed,” Councilor Becky Marks said.

Councilor Dale Primmer echoed her comments.

“It drives me nuts to listen to what a bureaucratic process it takes to make changes. You have people who want to develop and use their property. They put it on hold waiting for some policies or some description of what they can and can’t do and God knows how long it’s gonna take to get.”

Councilor Paul Chalmers said the river quarter plan was impeding development and any changes to it needed to be approached with a sense of urgency.

“Whatever we have to do to expedite this, we owe that to our citizenry to make sure it happens as quickly as possible,” he said. “Three years is too long in my book.”

City Planner George Cress said the commission had recently reviewed the plan and had a number of suggested changes. He added that staff is in the process of turning those verbal suggestions into a document.

Before the plan is adopted by the planning commission and council, Cress said Miltenberger and the other Court Avenue entrepreneurs could participate in public hearings to solicit their opinions.

The council may not have taken action on the river quarter, but there were several other issues they did take action on.

• The council unanimously approved a $7.7 million construction cost for the new fire station.

Adding consultant and owner fees, the city is currently committed to spending $9,429,487 for the total project, only $2 over the station budget set in August 2016.

Public Works Director Bob Patterson said the staying within budget should allow the city to purchase a new fire engine for the department.

• The council also approved a $9.8 million loan from the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The loan will cost the city $602,000 per year for 20 years and will pay for it using recent sewer rate hikes.

The loan money will be used for sewer projects identified in the city’s master plan.

• The council passed an ordinance that adds new penalties to the transient room tax and change its name to the Lodging Room Tax.

The 8 percent tax is collected from hotels and helps pay for the Pendleton Convention Center’s budget.

City Attorney Nancy Kerns said the tax will be expanded to cover vacation rentals like Airbnb and allow the city to charge hoteliers if they fail to pay the tax.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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