St. Helens explores park build on portion of old hospital site
St. Helens officials are talking about designing a new park on a portion of its Millard Road property that would ultimately serve two purposes — establish a city park west of Highway 30 and help determine the boundary for a piece of city land, currently zoned as public land, south of the proposed park site.
Discussion about the city's entire 23-acre property, part of which was once slated to be the site of a proposed community hospital, is ongoing, but much remains undecided.
The first step is to determine what kind of park could be established on a 6.86-acre northern portion of the property near McNulty Creek and Maple Street.
During a St. Helens City Council Meeting on June 5, the council approved a $10,000
contract with Mackenzie, a professional design service company with offices in Portland, to develop a park plan for the site.
The entire property, often referred to as the Millard Road property, was not always slated for a hospital, City Planner Jacob Graichen explained.
The portion being targeted for a park was purchased by the city from the St. Helens School District a number of years ago. The other portion, which is marked as 16.3 acres on city maps, is where a hos-
pital was once slated to be built.
That portion, which is often referred to anecdotally as the "hospital property," has a deep and sometimes contentious history.
In 2004 a special district was formed with the intent to establish a community hospital, an effort ultimately quelled when health district officials failed to obtain a certificate of need from the state in 2010. When the health district dissolved in 2011, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, acting as trustees, disposed of the health district's remaining assets and ultimately transferred the property's ownership to the city of St. Helens, which had approved a cherry-stem annexation to provide city services to the hospital prior to its demise.
That annexation, following the health district's collapse, allowed for the ownership transfer to St. Helens as established in state law.
Developing a plan will be the first step in the park development process. The design drawings will also inform city officials of where to draw a southern boundary line for the park.
The Mackenzie contract allows the consultants to generate a park concept plan, including for amenities such as a picnic shelter, playground, trail and restroom.
During a work session Wednesday, June 5, Graichen spoke with the City Council briefly about the park design process, as well as the possibility of rezoning the southern portion of the property now designated as public lands.
Discussions about the rezone were at the forefront a year ago when the city held a public forum to gather residents' feedback on desired zoning recommendations. Some suggested rezoning the land to suburban residential R10, which restricts uses to parks and single-dwelling units. Overall, however, public sentiment veered toward using the land for something that benefits the entire community. Also last year, the city collected public comment from various stakeholders and agencies, which showed support for mixed-use zoning.
After reviewing the city's recently completed housing needs analysis, Graichen on Wednesday indicated that the city had a deficit of high-density land in its inventory and recommended the council consider zoning the larger property parcel for mixed-use or moderate residential R7.
No final decisions have been made at this point.