City approves K Avenue vacation application

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer March 21, 2014 09:52 am

Council also places moratorium on permanent street furnishings

The La Grande City Council gave the OK to Union County on its application to vacate K Avenue from Fifth to Sixth streets during a regular session of the council Wednesday night.

The county has applied to the city to vacate part of K Avenue in order to provide ample off-street parking for a proposed courthouse to be sited on the corner of 5th Street and L Avenue, where Shelter From the Storm currently sits. 

Near the start of the council meeting, Mayor Daniel Pokorney announced the council would not hear testimony in regard to the street vacation. During public comments, that choice was ridiculed by Union County Planner Hanley Jenkins.

“We don’t agree with that process, and we don’t believe that it conforms with state law under the land-use requirements,” he said.

City officials defended the position, saying that the Wednesday decision was a  procedural one to determine whether the council would accept or deny the county’s street vacation application. Pokorney noted that at least two public hearings would follow before a final decision on the vacation is made.

Union County Circuit Court Judge Russ West was allowed to discuss the overall courthouse project during public comments. He noted that a lot of money has been spent through the years to study the best placement for a court facility. In 2009, a court facility committee determined that the Union County campus was the best location for a courthouse, he said. West also said that the Oregon Legislature twice denied funding for a new building and that failure to start spending the $2 million, allocated to the county in last year’s session, by October could result in a loss of the funds.

Despite a unanimous recommendation from the city’s Parking, Traffic Safety, and Street Maintenance Advisory Commission to deem the county’s application incomplete, the council voted 6-1 to accept the application and initiate vacation proceedings.

Jerry Sebestyen, the sole nay vote, sided with the advisory commission, which recommend the county complete a traffic impact analysis before proceeding. Councilors did request that the county provide as much additional information as possible for the vacation proceedings, which will continue with the city planning commission and then in a public hearing April 16.

The council also approved a moratorium on the placement of  downtown furnishings, intended to give La Grande Main Street time to decide on a  better process for placement and aesthetics of permanent fixtures. The moratorium applies to permanent features, those bolted into the sidewalk, and will last until May 20 or until Main Street has the details of the amenities process straightened out, whichever occurs first. Main Street representatives said a consultant would be in La Grande in April to help with the process.

Near the end of the meeting City Manager Robert Strope asked the council for direction on whether councilors would be interested in considering a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. During the recent legislative session, a bill was passed that gives municipalities authority to place moratoriums on the dispensaries, but they must be enacted by May 1, Strope said.

On a 4-3 vote the council decided they would consider the ordinance. The item will be on the April agenda.