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September 9th, 2008

Foes of gorge resort appeal rule’s adoption

Friends of the Columbia Gorge and 30 other parties have formally appealed a rule adopted by the Columbia River Gorge Commission that could allow a large destination resort on the site of a closed gorge lumber mill.

Monday, September 8 | 8:55 p.m.

By KATHIE DURBIN, COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITER

Although the proposed Broughton Landing site is in Washington, the appeal was filed Friday in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Friends conservation director Michael Lang said the appellants made that choice because Oregon’s land use law, unlike Washington’s, specifically prohibits destination resorts in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The rule, technically an amendment to the scenic area management plan, applies to the scenic area as a whole, although it’s not clear that any other site in the gorge meets the description of the property it covers: large former industrial sites zoned for commercial recreation.

Lang said the destination resort amendment “sets a terrible precedent that will harm future generations who are depending on us” to protect the national scenic area.

The rule, adopted by the bistate commission in April on a 10-2 vote, would allow Broughton Lumber Co. to build at least 245 residential units and other amenities on its former mill site near the Columbia River. It would be the largest development in the scenic area since it was established by Congress in 1986.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Weaver of Oregon, who sponsored the scenic area act, joined in the legal challenge, saying the resort would result in development and commercial uses at a scale unintended by the act’s sponsors.

Developer disappointed

Broughton Lumber President Jason Spadaro said the litigation could delay development of the project by 18 to 24 months.

“It’s disappointing that Friends of the Gorge continues to fight this project,” he said. “They are ignoring the ability of Skamania County to have economic development and a new source of income. That’s more important than ever with the loss of the federal timber payments.”

The delay also means the scenic “enhancements” the company has promised for the site, such as trails, parking and access to a popular windsurfing beach, also are on hold, Spadaro said.

Before the commission approved the plan amendment, the site’s zoning limited Broughton to development of 35 cabins and up to 175 camping sites.

The company said it could not make a profit on a resort of that size. Instead, it proposed a $70 million resort with vacation homes, a restaurant and a conference center.

A major sticking point in the commission’s deliberations was how to make sure private residential units did not become year-round homes, creating, in effect, a new urban area in the gorge that could compete with existing communities.

The plan amendment states that all accommodation units “shall be designed for uses limited to short-term occupancy to ensure the resort protects and supports the economies of urban areas.”

But its final version contains no requirement that the properties be made available to the public through a rental pool.

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