The Hermiston City Council approved an annexation and zoning changes Monday that could transform the northeast entrance to town.
Developers Lloyd and Lois Piercy of Hat Rock, who have completed projects around Hermiston in the past and helped revitalize downtown Echo, hope to turn 36 acres at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Diagonal Road into a multi-use neighborhood.
Their vision includes 25 acres of "moderate" single family homes, plus walking trails, a few "neighborhood" businesses such as a market or hair salon, and a selection of duplexes and triplexes providing approximately 45 accessible units designed for residents age 55 and older. They plan to start construction in the fall of 2020.
"There is a fair supply of usable land for housing (in Hermiston) but very few tracts large enough to create a community," Lloyd Piercy told the council.
Part of the project would include an off-road pedestrian trail along Northeast 10th Street and improvements to the road. City planner Clint Spencer said studies included in the application materials show there is adequate sewer and water infrastructure ready to serve the site, and that even worst case scenario traffic numbers would fall well within what surrounding roads were designed to handle.
The request for annexation into the city and zoning the land with a mixture of commercial and residential designations was met with no opposition at Monday's public hearing, but it did get a notable endorsement from former city manager Ed Brookshier.
"I first started discussing the concept with Lloyd very casually two or two and a half years ago, and it excited me from the very beginning," he told the council.
He pointed out that Hermiston's other entrances into town have seen development and beautification over recent years, but its entrance from Highway 207 "lacks character." The Piercys' project, he said, has the opportunity to set the tone for people coming into town from that direction.
He said developing that particular piece of land won't be easy, but he has faith in the their ability to see it through.
"I've watched the Piercys in other work, and their quality and attention to detail is outstanding," he said.
Hermiston resident Eric Reise also said he was excited about the opportunity for Hermiston and was impressed with what the Piercys had done for Echo.
City councilors asked questions about the proposal, which had been vetted and recommended by the planning commission. Spencer said some questions — such as whether the speed limit would be adjusted along Elm Avenue — were preliminary and would come as the developers continued through the process.
City councilor Rod Hardin noted that the number of senior citizens in the United States is expected to double in the next 10 years, and said that he had recently visited a similar project in another city, where 95% of its 80 senior units and 92% of its regular family units had been leased.
"I feel there's a demand," he said.
In addition to the 36 acres for the Piercys' project, city staff also worked with Umatilla Electric Cooperative to include the utility's substation on Elm Street in the annexation to avoid creating an "island" of county land in the city.
The zoning and annexation were passed unanimously.
The council started Monday's work session with state Sen. Bill Hansell, who highlighted bills he helped pass during the 2019 legislative session. During the upcoming short session in February, senators are allowed a single bill while representatives are allowed two bills. They sent their bills for legal review on Friday, and Hansell said his bill would call for funding to study critical groundwater issues in the Columbia Basin.
The senator noted that he had decided to run for another four-year term next year, and said it would likely be his last, although he knows to "never say never." He said he had been approached about running for federal office when Congressman Greg Walden recently announced his retirement, but decided against it.
"I think every Republican elected official in the statehouse had someone call them and say, 'You ought to run,'" he said.
During Monday's meeting the council passed several housekeeping items, including minor updates to its found property and animal sections of the code of ordinances, adoption of a formalized written set of standards for the Hermiston Municipal Airport and a supplemental budget to close out several old accounts with small amounts of money left over from past projects.
The council removed an item from its agenda to adopt findings of fact for their land use decision from Nov. 12 that declined to rezone a piece of property on Northeast Fourth Street, which Eastern Oregon Development LLC had hoped to turn into mini-storage.