Access issues

Local businesses confronted with expensive Third Street access renovations

by: KATE WENNERSTROM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Executive Inn on Third Street recently received a permit for the main access.  According to ODOT, the private driveway (far right) must be removed.

After making the decision to expand their establishments, several local business owners are finding out that the Oregon Department of Transportation has a say in their plans.
   "Any time you make any changes to your building, like if you add-on, then ODOT has a right to come in here and change your access off of a major highway," said Jana Rhoden, owner of the Tastee Treet. "I can't do any of my construction that I want to do until I get permission from ODOT."
   Third Street, as it's known downtown, is under the control of ODOT as State Highway 26. While local businesses have sat alongside the highway with entrances into their parking lots for decades, ODOT insists on permitting the accesses upon expansion.
   "Anytime they go through land use, if they have an unpermitted access to the state highway, at that time, we have them permit the access," ODOT Permit Specialist Robert Morrow said. "It's nothing new. We've been doing it for years."
   Rhoden's concerns include changes to her Third Street access and the possible price tag associated with an approved permit.
   "They're not going to take the access away from me, but it could be an entry only or an exit only," she said. "I'm just waiting to hear from ODOT, because they require you to do a bunch of concrete work, depending on the approach that they want you to have. He (Morrow) said, I'll probably have to do $5,000 to $10,000 worth of work out there, just to be able to keep that entry."
   "If they would have left it alone and not done anything, we don't go looking for them, even though it's unpermitted," Morrow said. "Everything costs money these days when there's changes. I know what she's looking at. She's got an old building that she's going to be pouring money into already. Now she's got to mess with the driveway too."
   While it may seem unfair, ODOT specifically plans their permitting process around significant renovations.
   "We wait until somebody does some type of action. To just go out of the blue when they're not doing anything and tell them they've got to do this and that - that's a hard pill to swallow," Morrow continued. "We let them know up front. If they don't change or do anything to the building to trigger those, then we go away, most likely."
   Prineville Body and Paint owner Bobby Cox tried to comply with ODOT's permit regulations, and instead opted not to expand his establishment.
   "He (Morrow) said they want us to put curbs and sidewalks in if we do anything to our building," Cox said. "That isn't something I wanted to do, but if that's something we have to do, then we'll do it."
   Cox brought in Armstrong Engineering to develop a suitable approach to his business.
   "We had an entrance into our building, a place for our customers to park and then an exit out to the highway," Cox continued. "ODOT came back and said they really didn't want us to do that - that they wanted us to have no legal access on our property from the highway."
   "We weren't taking away all of his access," Morrow said. "He has an easement through the adjoining property owner. That is where the approach would have gone so it could serve both properties."
   With the ability to avoid the permit policies, Cox chose to not expand his current building and instead construct an additional establishment.
   "With ODOT, it's their way or no way. There's no options. There's nobody to appeal to. You do it their way or you don't do it," Cox said. "So, we're in the process of building on the lot behind us now. We'll keep using the current building, we just won't do any additions to it."
   "I'll be honest, it's still debatable," Morrow said. "He is adding another big building to it. We don't look at tax lots, we look at ownership and he controls both pieces of property. So, I know we're still looking at it."
   While Cox's property is still under investigation, Jennifer Warren, the owner of the Executive Inn is glad her permit has finally been approved.
   "It's taken a while, but we went through all the steps and they finally approved it," she said. "At one point it sounded like they weren't going to approve it, our Third Street entrance."
   In the approved permit, ODOT granted the Executive Inn the main access, but took away the private driveway that Warren and her husband used.
   "It was pre-existing and they're going to take that out. They said we can't have it," Warren said. "He (Morrow) said we don't need that because we've got all the parking in the parking lot, but that's for the rooms. We don't have a personal parking lot."
   Citing highway safety as the main concern, ODOT contends that accesses are road hazards.
   "Our job is to try to protect that highway," Morrow said. "People are always complaining about congestion and accidents and those types of issues. A lot of them surround or are regarding accesses. The job of a state highway is to move traffic. It's not a thing for access."
   "The only thing that they care about is the safety of the highway and the flow of the traffic. That's it," Rhoden said. "They don't care if you lose all of your business because of that entryway, it's not their problem."
   "Basically they don't want landowners to have any access to the highway, just as few accesses to the highway as possible," Cox added.
   "It's frustrating because I want to do all this stuff, just so I can accommodate up to the rules like I'm supposed to," Rhoden continued. "But, they're making it so hard financially that I just don't know what to do."
   While the ramifications of the access permit can be costly, without the permit, businesses could be surprised by even higher costs.
   "You have to realize, if it's unpermitted there's no legal right to the state highway at all," Morrow said. "If we have a project come through there or anything, they do not have any rights for a remedy or to even keep the approach."
   Rhoden is confident in her decision, come what may, to wait for the permit approval and do as she's told.
   "You can't argue with them - you just follow procedure, period," she said. "Every business here better have a permit, and if they don't, they'd better get one."
   "We realize these people are just trying to survive and make a living out there," Morrow added. "We're sympathetic to that and we're very aware of that. We try to negotiate and I don't think we're unfair."