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Conserved Lands Do Not Impede Housing Development

June 20, 2024
Note: The following letter to the editor responds to the original Columbia Gorge News article that can be found here. Our response letter was published in the June 19 edition of Columbia Gorge News here.

At the May 15 Wasco County Commissioners meeting, Wasco County Planning Director Kelly Howsley-Glover told the commissioners that lands owned by conservation organizations undermine the need for more housing. This is an unfounded and dangerous narrative that attacks one of Wasco County’s greatest assets in attracting new residents: Its protected natural environment.

By criticizing land trusts that have stopped natural areas from being converted into multi-million-dollar mansions, Director Howsley-Glover is missing the forest for the trees. The Dalles completed a housing study last year to determine the potential for residential development within the city limits. The study found that the city has a capacity for 3,337 additional dwellings today, more than enough to address the anticipated need of 505 units.

Every Gorge community is facing the challenges of rising housing costs and more middle- and lower-income families scrambling for shelter. The recent efforts of the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council to convert an old motel into transitional housing is a shining example of how to use existing resources to create greater opportunities. Within the communities of The Dalles and Dallesport are numerous similar opportunities to expand housing options.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust owns 166 acres in Wasco County, which represents just 0.375% of National Scenic Area lands in Wasco County. Of those acres, only 34 are zoned residential. Some of our land trust’s properties have homes with tenants, these homes will remain there into the future. We’ve chosen not to develop other properties, such as the Mosier Plateau, a recreation asset for the entire region. In short, we exercise the same private property rights that all Wasco County landowners do when we choose to develop or not develop our lands. Friends also voluntarily pays property taxes on all our lands in Wasco County despite our nonprofit status. We paid more than $20,000 in property taxes this year alone. 

Considering the benefits that conserved lands bring to Gorge communities in terms of habitat protection, climate resilience, recreation opportunities, and reduction of catastrophic wildfire risks, it’s easy to recognize and appreciate the value that conservation brings to Gorge communities.

Rudy Salakory
Conservation Director
Friends of the Columbia Gorge