Residents provide feedback on potential zoning, uses for property once slated for hospital in St. Helens

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - St. Helens City Planner Jacob Graichen speaks with the City Council and residents during a public forum Wednesday, June 20. During the forum, Graichen explained the history of the property and how different zoning on the property would affect potential future uses. What will the future hold for property on Millard Road once slated to house a hospital in St. Helens?

On Wednesday night, June 20, the St. Helens City Council asked the question and held a public forum for residents to provide feedback.

While the decision is far from final, for many who spoke up Wednesday night the resounding sentiment was that it should be used for something that benefits the entire county, not just St. Helens.

While the forum was delayed by a separate two-hour public hearing for a property annexation, a group of roughly 20 residents stuck around to discuss some of their ideas and opinions about how to use the land.

St. Helens residents Betsy Kinsel (cq) and Larry K (cq) recommended that the council consider the natural features of the site — which includes several wetlands — and the values of residents who already live in the area. They both suggested the city consider zoning the property as R10, which restricts uses to only parks and single-family dwelling units.

St. Helens resident Brady Preheim in stronger language suggested the city use the property in a way that benefits the entire county. He suggested parks or low-income housing, but "not something built for profit-making."

A variety of ideas were tossed into the mix, including using the property for senior housing, affordable housing or a community center.

The city also received a signed letter from the Columbia County Board of Commissioners recommending similar uses and ideas.

Several City Council members noted Wednesday that the forum was just the first step of the process and is only a part of many conversations to come when determining uses for the property.

The history of the property goes back more than a decade when a special health district was established in 2004. The special district collected millions of dollars in taxes from residents within the special district to fund the creation of a hospital, an effort which was ultimately quelled when the county failed to obtain a certificate of need from the state in 2010.

The district dissolved in 2011 and the Columbia County Board of Commissioners was tasked with handling the remaining assets.

Prior to the hospital's collapse, in 2010 the city of St. Helens approved a cherry-stem annexation of the property into city limits with the intent to service the hospital with city water and sewer. Four years later and following dissolution of the Columbia Health District, the county commissioners, acting as trustees, returned the 8.9-acre property to St. Helens as established per state law. The property is currently zoned as public land, and water and sewer infrastructure remain in place.

During the discussions, City Planner Jacob Graichen said the city is also looking at a potential rezone and use options for a large portion of city-owned property north of the formerly proposed hospital property that covers a small portion of McNulty Creek. In total, that area of property is more than 23 acres.

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