Hermiston Council Rejects Landscaping Ordinance

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Landscape Ordinance Fails
Kenneth Brown speaks out against a proposed landscaping ordinance at Monday's Hermiston City Council Meeting. The council reject the ordinance by a 5-3 vote.

After months of public outreach, public meetings, public hearings and numerous amendments, the proposed Hermiston landscaping ordinance couldn’t get enough support from the Hermiston City Council Monday night.

The council re-opened a public hearing on the proposed ordinance Monday night that had been continued from its Aug. 24 meeting. Several changes to the ordinance were made in the weeks leading up to Monday’s council meeting.

(DRAFT ORDINANCE CAN BE FOUND HERE)

Those changes came, in part, from comments made by members of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce during a meeting set up by Chamber President Debbie Pedro in an effort to find a compromise the city and businesses could live with. A survey filled out by 69 chamber members showed that 71 percent were in favor of some kind of landscaping ordinance.

The ordinance was intended to set minimum landscaping standards for new commercial and industrial development. Opponents argued from the start that the ordinance would be expensive and time-consuming to adhere to and that most businesses were already landscaping their property.

Monday’s vote by the council came as something of a surprise. A procedural vote to accept the findings of fact from the hearing resulted in a 4-4 tie with Councilors Doug Smith, Manuel Gutierrez, Clara Beas-Fitzgerald and Doug Primmer voting against the findings of fact. Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann questioned why the councilors would deny the findings of fact. He then cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the findings of fact.

Then came the actual vote to approve or deny the ordinance, with the mayor expecting to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the ordinance.

“If this vote goes the way of the findings of fact vote, then I guess I’ll – well, we’ll see how it goes,” Drotzmann said.

When the roll call came, Councilor Lori Davis, who voted for the findings of fact and who had not spoken during the meeting about the ordinance, voted against it, resulting in a 5-3 vote to reject the ordinance.

It was a relief for the ordinance’s opponents and a disappointment for its supporters. During the public hearing portion of the meeting, several opponents made their case against the ordinance.

Clint Fordice passed out photos of property owned by the city that had he claimed would be in violation of the proposed ordinance.

“You’re asking us to follow your rules, but it don’t look like you’re following your own,” he told the council.

Kathy Erz, who has spoken in opposition of the ordinance from the start, said she was in favor of beautifying Hermiston, but not by mandate.

“Most people are already landscaping,” she said. “This is not necessary.”

Kenneth Brown wanted to know why the city thought the ordinance was needed in the first place.

“What have we done wrong for the past 100 years?” he asked. “Are we really that ugly? We don’t need a whole set of new rules.”

Diana Ables also argued against mandates.

“I’m not against more beautification,” she said. “I’m against more regulations.”

Umatilla Planning Director Tamra Mabbott spoke in favor of the ordinance. Mabbot is also a member of the Highway 395 Technical Advisory Committee that is looking to revitalize the 395 corridor through several measures, including beautification. She said making a community more aesthetically pleasing goes a long way toward attracting new businesses and industry.

“The members of the committee and the county are supportive of this,” she said.

Pedro thanked the council for its outreach efforts and the time they spent working to incorporate suggested changes to the ordinance.

Councilor John Kirwan said he supported the ordinance because it would address one of Hermiston’s biggest areas of concern.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear is, ‘Can’t we do something about the businesses in town that don’t look very appealing?’ If you want to go after the 5 percent who aren’t maintaining their property, this is the tool to do it with,” Kirwan said.

Drotzmann said the proposed ordinance was written with the future of the city in mind.

“If we don’t do something today, what will we look like in the future?” he asked. “I think this is a reasonable approach.”

Councilor Doug Smith, however, said the ordinance was unfair to small businesses.

“We lay out the red carpet for big businesses and give them tax breaks,” he said. “We don’t do that for the small businesses. This is putting up a barrier.”