The Hermiston city council on Monday cleared hurdles for a new chamber of commerce building, new school and new water tower.
The Greater Hermiston Area Chamber of Commerce plans to use the $1 million it got from the state legislature in 2018 to build a new set of offices and workforce development center on the southeast corner of East Evelyn Avenue and South Highway 395, across the highway from New Hope Community Church.
On Monday the city council voted to approve the chamber’s request that the 2.4 acre property be re-zoned from multi-family residential to outlying commercial to allow the project to go forward.
George Anderson, attorney for the chamber, described the property as “truly a superb location” for the new building.
“The chamber of course needs a new home and has $1 million to find a home and build a home,” he said. “It’s just wonderful.”
Paul Keeler, the chamber board’s president, said they hoped to get started on the building “maybe in the next three to four months” if the zoning was approved. The plan is for it to feature offices and a conference room for the chamber and a space where up to 120 people could participate in workforce training activities.
Board member and listing agent for the property Tim Mabry said he had tried to reach out to developers over the last year and a half but had been told universally that the 2.4 acre property was too small for an apartment complex to pencil out.
City planner Clint Spencer told the council he had heard similar things. He also noted that the property was already served with the utilities that would be needed for the project and that the surrounding roads would be equipped to handle the resulting traffic. The entrance to the property would be off Evelyn Avenue, not Highway 395.
City councilors — including Jackie Myers, Roy Barron and Rod Hardin (who chimed in by phone from Washington, D.C. while at the national League of Oregon Cities conference) — voted unanimously to support the change.
“Congratulations to the chamber,” Mayor David Drotzmann said. “We look forward to seeing a nice facility there, and workforce development.”
On Monday the council also approved a change to the comprehensive plan and annexation of about 71 acres of property owned by Hermiston School District and the Hermiston Irrigation District. After a land swap, the school district now owns 19 acres at the corner of Northeast 10th Street and East Theater Lane and the irrigation district owns another 51 acres behind it.
The school district plans to build a new elementary school on the property, as soon as it can get a bond passed to pay for one. Anderson, who also serves as the HSD attorney, said the district swapped parcels with the irrigation district so that it could better route traffic by having access off of two streets instead of one.
The council unanimously approved the joint request to annex both properties into the city, and to change them on the comprehensive plan from future residential to an urban status, clearing the way for a future school.
The council’s third unanimous vote for the night was to award a $3.3 million contract to Premier Excavation of Pasco for a water project that will include two miles of new pipes, an upgrade to the Alora Heights booster station and a new 1-million gallon water tower on the corner of East Punkin Center and Northeast 10th Street.
The city has taken out a loan for the project that will be repaid using the $1 million-per-year payments in lieu of taxes from Lamb Weston for its major expansion project outside Hermiston. The city and Umatilla County will each get $500,000 per year for the next 15 years, and Umatilla County is giving its first $2 million in payments to the water project.
Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said the project has several major economic benefits.
In the event of a major power outage, Morgan said, the city currently only has about 18 hours worth of water stored at a time. The new water tank will increase storage capacity.
Second, the project will provide water (or adequate water pressure) to about 290 “highly developable” acres where the city expects to see new housing development as soon as the project is complete.
Morgan said Hermiston has lost out on major new employers in the past because it didn’t have enough workers, and a boost in housing will help bring more workers to the area.
“We’re adding housing, but the sentiment is that we’re not adding housing fast enough,” he said.
A conservative estimate of 10 new houses a year spurred by the water project would allow the city to reap about $13.5 million in additional property taxes over 20 years.
The project will also serve the property where Hermiston School District plans to build an elementary school, saving the district as much as $2 million in infrastructure development costs that would have otherwise fallen on the district.