Empty lot

A “For Sale” sign sits at the narrow entrance off Highway 395 to a 9-acre property a developer would like to use for storage units.

The Hermiston City Council decided Monday that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, siding with a mini-storage project on land that the planning commission had hoped might be preserved for a restaurant or store.

The property in question is a triangle-shaped 9-acre piece of land stretching between Highway 395 and Northeast Fourth Street on the north side of Rogers Toyota. The tip of the triangle is 40 feet of access off of the highway, which then stretches to 600 feet on Fourth Street.

Steve Richards, who recently build Highland Mini Storage in Hermiston and owns storage facilities in Pendleton and Stanfield, hopes to purchase the property and create another mini storage facility with a live-in caretaker on the back 5 acres of the property, bordering Fourth Street. To do so, he would need the city to approve a Neighborhood Commercial Overlay on the current commercial zoning.

City Planner Clint Spencer told the council that the planning commission thought the property — one of the few undeveloped pieces left along Highway 395 in town — could someday attract a restaurant or other retail operation that will only build on roads with high traffic counts. The city has discussed the possibility of creating an urban renewal district and placing a road on the north side of the property to help make it more attractive to such a business.

“They felt mini-storage was not the highest and best use of the property,” he said.

City Manager Byron Smith said he hears all the time from residents who want the city to attract more restaurants and retail, and while Hermiston also needs storage units, he felt many people would prefer to see that particular space go to something else.

Richards, however, said that the property has several limitations he felt will continue to keep retailers out, including a 100-foot-wide Bureau of Reclamation easement running through the property and the narrow 40-foot access off of Highway 395.

“There’s not a lot of visibility there,” he said.

He said other properties zoned for mini-storage were too small, and pointed out that he only planned to purchase 5 of the 9 acres, leaving the land closest to Highway 395 open. And even if the city kept the current zoning, he said, he could still build other non-restaurant options such as a car wash, RV park or laundromat without needing the city’s permission.

He said area storage units currently have a 93% occupancy rate and many Hermiston residents are spending their money outside of Hermiston for their storage needs. Out of 112 doors he knocked on, he said, 107 residents signed a petition in favor of the project.

City councilors were not all in agreement about the idea. Roy Barron said he didn’t want to be hasty about allowing mini-storage there when city staff were still looking at running a road through the property that would make it more attractive for retail.

“I don’t want us to be short-sighted in jumping on an opportunity, when we do have other plans,” he said.

Councilor Rod Hardin, who lives near Richards’ Highland project, said those facilities were attractive and improved the neighborhood, and he thought the proposed project would do the same.

Mayor David Drotzmann and several other councilors said the land had been sitting vacant for many years and no one had wanted it so far. They noted that creating an urban renewal district and building a road there would be years in the future and was no guarantee that someone would build there afterward.

“I’ve never seen anyone interested in that property,” Manuel Gutierrez said.

In the end, Gutierrez, Hardin, Doug Primmer and Doug Smith voted in favor of changing the zoning, while Barron and Jackie Myers voted no. Spencer said he would bring the proper resolution before the council at their next meeting for official adoption.

The council also voted Monday to vacate an undeveloped right-of-way in its South Hermiston Industrial Park to clear the way for a major developer.

The portion of Southeast 10th Street between Penney Avenue and Feedville Road exists only on paper right now, and the city’s transportation master plan does not note a need to create an actual road there in the future.

Spencer said the right of way runs straight down the middle of a property slated for major development through Hermiston’s long-term enterprise zone, and giving up the right of way to the developer would not landlock any properties.

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