Just five short months ago, on Oct. 12, 2016, St. Helens citizens, business owners and stakeholders were all smiles as they toasted with champagne the end of a seven-year process on a collaborative effort to shape the St. Helens waterfront development on property owned by the city of St. Helens. A groundbreaking effort put forth by St. Helens to create a dynamic, sustainable low-density development, with a series of workshops titled, "What's Your Waterfront?" embodied everything good about local government.
This tenor changed for the worse on March 14, however, when the city proposed removing building restrictions on heights for new development in the newly created "Mill District," the property next to the amphitheater and adjacent playground.
Unlike the transparent actions of St. Helens during numerous meetings with various volunteer committees and hired professionals, the infamous, whooping 200-page "Text draft" (found online at http://www.ci.st-helens.or.us/sites/default/files/fileattachments/planning_commission/meeting/5261/031417_pc_packet.pdf), was only sent to residents and businesses within 300 feet of the proposed waterfront development in a vague correspondence regarding proposed changes to zoning and other issues. Had someone not read and discovered the height restriction removal buried on page 32 of the cumbersome document, the changes would be been inconspicuously presented and recommended for approval at the city's Planning Commission meeting two weeks ago. Why all the cloak and dagger?
For one thing, everyone was sold on the idea that development taking place on the waterfront would be low-density and low-rise, with heights not exceeding 48 feet, as designed in numerous drawings and written descriptions presented to the public over the last seven years. The move to allow unlimited height for buildings is a strategy to entice out-of-town developers to build high-rises on the riverfront. Of course, affordable housing goes out the window as well, so only the rich will enjoy views and the riverfront that is the heritage of those living and working in St. Helens. It is a necessary fight to preserve the waterfront for generations to come, not for just an elite few looking to profit off the backs of citizens.
The St. Helens City Council will be voting on removing height restrictions on April 5 at 6 p.m. at City Council Chambers, 265 The Strand. The public can comment on the zoning changes during this meeting. For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/noskyscrapers.
Jeannine "JJ" Duehren is a long-time small business owner, including owner of rental properties in St. Helens. She additionally serves on the Scappoose Parks Committee.