Umatilla County approved an amendment to its development code along the Highway 395 North corridor between Hermiston and Umatilla last week to allow for automobile dealerships to be developed in the area.
The code change was recommended by Umatilla County Planning Department staff following a June 25 public hearing and loosens the 30-foot maximum setback requirement and caps the irrigated landscaping requirement at a half-acre for select businesses.
“Buildings related to automobile, truck or motorcycle sales lots are exempt from the maximum setback requirements when the front of the lot is used for automobile, truck or motorcycle merchandise display,” the amended code states.
The amendment was unanimously approved by the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners on July 15 following a public hearing that featured no public input in favor or in opposition.
“Our hope is that these changes will help encourage more development and redevelopment along the corridor for businesses like automobile dealerships that want to locate out there,” Umatilla County Planning Director Bob Waldher said during the staff report portion of the hearing.
Waldher said these developers should now be able to adequately display vehicles for sale, while larger developments won’t be challenged by having to abide by the original code of 15% of irrigated landscaping per parcel, which was exceeding limitations set by the Oregon State Department of Water Resources.
The economic development project has been geared toward improving the aesthetics and economic vitality along the corridor, which includes commercial- and industrial-zoned properties between Hermiston and Umatilla’s urban growth boundaries. Waldher said development codes were amended in November 2019 that helped establish these design standards.
“Since then we’ve actually been able to implement some of those code changes, and back in February we met with a prospective developer for an automobile dealership who was having some trouble meeting the design standards,” Waldher said July 15.
That developer was concerned about being able to display their vehicles and the requirement to include the 1.5 acres of irrigated landscaping that would have been required on their 10-acre parcel.
After hearing those concerns, Walder and county planning staff met with Highway 395 North Technical Advisory Committee, which agreed the code should be amended to alleviate those challenges.
Waldher said that, at the behest of the Umatilla County Planning Commission, county planning staff also determined the relaxed standards will apply to agricultural equipment dealerships also.
But the exemptions will only apply for those select businesses, and Walder said the amended development requirements should still achieve the project’s goals.
“We’re really trying to limit huge parking lots out in front of businesses if we can sometimes locate them to the side or rear of the business,” Waldher said. “That can have a better aesthetic effect as well as improved walkability and things like that.”