The year 2022 was a disaster for governance in Curry County. Again the budget process was chaos, and the spending spree continues. Recom-mendations from the committee to advise on allocating American Rescue Plan funds were ignored. The Board of Commissioners picked some pet projects to funnel the money to, and the Sheriff got a bundle of it. A much needed plan for transitional housing for the homeless was turned down for ARP funding, and the most negative elements in the community bullied and harangued the applicant in public meetings. A local radio program aired a well-researched episode on county corruption – and named names.
The decision to radically revise zoning in county-controlled areas was one of the worst of the year. If it stands, the new zoning ordinance will change our communities radically, opening the floodgates to short-term vacation rentals virtually everywhere outside the three cities. Because this new STR regula-tion confers land-use rights, it will be extremely difficult to rein in bad actors. Enforcement of regulations to ensure liveability for residents will be a nightmare – as counties and cities in Oregon, indeed all over the world, already know. The county currently has no cap in place on the number of STRs permitted. And this disruption may be coming to a neighborhood near you.
The new ordinance also ups the allowable housing density in rural zones. While new, affordable housing is badly needed, this is not the way to get it. Assumptions were made by the planning director that some developers are not going to be able to comply with existing requirements, say for siting a septic system, and that will suffice to limit overweening applicants. As development moves out to rural areas, little consideration is being given to impacts on adjacent resource lands, resources such as drinking water, transportation deficits, and fire protection. Can already budget-stressed Curry County meet these additional needs?
All of the above is prologue and context for the following update.
As soon as the new zoning code was enacted in September, it was appealed by two citizens and Oregon Coast Alliance to the Land Use Board of Appeals. One of those citizens also began a referendum to place the code on the ballot in 2024. 100 Friends of Port Orford has supported both efforts, raising money for attorneys and more.
The LUBA appeal is stalled because the county’s record of proceedings is incomplete and otherwise shoddy, which the county is disputing. We are confident that this eventually will be resolved by the parties’ lawyers, but the fact that numerous public comments were omitted from the record the county submitted is troubling. Only issues raised in the hearing and in public comment and included in the record may be considered in the appeal.
The referendum did not get off the ground, unfortunately. The county clerk refused to approve the petition for circulation, citing the opinion of the former county counsel – given on his way out the door to a better job. He stated that the ordinance was adopted as an emergency land use decision and thus was “outside the scope of actions subject to the local referendum process” per the Oregon Constitution. Well, no, it wasn’t.
As the petitioner’s attorney responded, the ordinance makes no mention of emergency circumstances or states any reason that it should take effect immediately. The county was seriously in error in refusing to certify the signature petition, denying citizens the statutory 90 days to refer such a nonemergency ordinance to the electorate. Nevertheless, the county’s disingenuous footdragging ran out the clock, and the deadline for filing a referendum passed in early December. This creates a dangerous precedent for citizen activism in the future.
The LUBA appeal continues. And a parallel effort is ongoing to convince the BOC, through its current legal counsel, to voluntarily withdraw the ordinance and cure the worst of the problems. Given the county’s conduct to date, we are not hopeful that the BOC will do the right thing on its own. So far, more than a dozen STRs are on track for approval under the new ordinance. Walking that back will not be easy. Once permitted as a land use, rather than as simply another business, STRs gain significant advantages and cannot be curtailed, limited, or eliminated. Good news for nonresident investors; not so for the rest of us.
The county adopted a massive package of zoning changes in September with minimal outreach to citizens or the cities for their advice and consent. (See “For the Record,” posted below on September 15, for details on how this came about.)
At the public hearing on August 7, we tried to get the county to listen to all of our many objections, but without a single word of discussion the board of commissioners went ahead and approved the new ordinance anyway. The business license regulation of short-term rentals (STRs) part was needed — there had previously been no regulation at all. But allowing STRs in all rural zones should have been considered separately — as well as the dramatic new housing density increases. Because the county threw it all together, the result was a controversial mess ripe for a complete makeover.
On September 28, two county residents and Oregon Coast Alliance filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal Ordinance 22-04 with the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). We expect the brief for the appeal to be presented to LUBA within a few months and the case decided early next year. We hope the ordinance will be completely struck down.
For a one-two punch, a referendum has also been filed. If a sufficient number of signatures are gathered, the ordinance will be referred to county voters on the ballot for the regular election in May 2023. You can help by signing the petition! Details on how to do so will be available soon.
Support sensible county zoning! Support repealing Curry County Ordinance 22-04 (ZOA-2022.1)!
On August 17, the Board of Commissioners heard from 23 citizens who testified in person about Application ZOA.2022.01 – Amending the Curry County Zoning Ordinance. This was respectful, intelligent, insightful, experiential, meaningful testimony, almost exclusively from residents of North County opposed to the application. But it failed.
The commissioners had also received dozens of written comments before the hearing, some of which never made it into the meeting packet. (How many? We don’t know. Everything will be in the record, we were told.) Most of those comments were in opposition. Yet, after testimony they voted to close the hearing, close the record, and approve the amendments as presented by the planning commission, with no discussion and no modifications. After all that had been said.
Let’s be clear. Two men, Chair John Herzog and Commissioner Court Boice (Vice Chair Paasch was absent), approved this massive, wholesale revision of county land use regulation that is now virtually irrevocable. It is, and was meant to be, permanent.
Herzog and Boice piously declared that they “love” us in Port Orford, and “it’s not set in stone,” and “it’s not going to be the Wild, Wild West … , if things go crazy we can fix it.” It’s fair to wonder how simple any change would be, now that rights have been granted. It’s fair to wonder if the BOC understands that, or is being purposely disingenuous.
It is important to keep in mind that Curry County Planning Director Becky Crockett is the author (her word) of these zoning amendments. She pushed them through the Curry County Planning Commission, and she brooked no argument along the way. Though the process was ongoing for a year or more, very few realized the scope and intensity of what was being discussed.
There was activity going on in Gold Beach, sure. Four meetings of the Curry County Planning Commission in 2021 included some mention of short-term rentals (STRs) and/or additional dwelling units (ADUs). Summaries of those meetings indicate that few members of the public commented, and most of those were from the STR side. This was during a pandemic, remember, when vaccination was in the early stages and new variants were rampant. What kind of outreach was done?
The first inkling of what was in store came in two memos from Planning Director Crockett in June 2021 – one on STRs, one on ADUs. Were these circulated widely at the time? No, they stayed within the confines of county planning commission meetings. Then in October came a new memo from the director, and at that point the commission requested that Crockett ask the BOC to create a task force to study STRs. [Source: Meeting Summary]
But in November, Crockett told the planning commission that “the BOC preferred action over a task force.” And, “she explained how upon application of Conditional Use Approval for an STR the Land Use Process could be used to protect STRs from referendums like Lincoln County’s, vesting their rights into the future.” STR owners’ rights would explicitly be paramount. Homeowners whose neighborhoods would be affected were not consulted. A number of STR owners spoke at this meeting, but no other members of the public. [Source: Meeting Summary]
On December 1, the BOC held a workshop on STRs. In addition to other items on the agenda was “potential regulation of vacation rentals.” There is a video but no minutes are available. On December 16, the planning commission reviewed the workshop. The summary for that meeting stated that “recent Lincoln County voter referendum requires STRs to be phased out over the next five years. … The Board of Commissioners heard public testimony and is interested in making STRs legal through land use regulation so that the fate of STRs won’t be subject to public vote.” [emphasis supplied]
Alarm Bells Begin Ringing
No meetings of the planning commission were held from January through April 2022. Then, for the May 19 meeting, the text of the zoning amendments sprang full-blown into a meeting packet for the first time – 13 documents plus an STR fee schedule. And still, no attempt was made to engage with any of the cities or citizens in general to explain the proposals and hear feedback. The county planning director did not come to Port Orford for meetings or hold any workshops for city staff, the Port Orford Planning Commission, or the Port Orford City Council.
In June, 2022, the massive package of zoning changes hit the fan finally with a newspaper ad noticing a July 21 planning commission hearing on the application. It was easy to miss what was up, because the description was terse and general. And besides, who reads our dinky county papers? Social media is where the majority get the news. But as Director Crockett told us, the newspaper ad satisfied state requirements.
Here’s what we reported after the July hearing: “Last Thursday’s County Planning Commission hearing was a shock to the six folks from Port Orford and Langlois who showed up to bring the word from Far North Curry. The massive amendments to county zoning passed unanimously, with no response to testimony from the public. The entire meeting took just over one hour. An hour to casually apply radical changes to land use all over the county. Outside of public comment from one Brookings resident, no other area was heard from! This is proof that public notice was wildly inadequate, as vigilant Port Orford residents pointed out. Most citizens had no idea what was being proposed. None of the letters of testimony (at least four that we know of) are available to the public, none of the written or in-person testimony was addressed during the hearing, and no questions were asked of anyone who testified. To those attending virtually, the commissioners’ discussion took place behind a black screen, since the camera in the hearing room was off. It was difficult to see who was talking, and the sound was bad. No commissioner identified him- or herself when speaking.”
After the amendments were passed on to the Board of Commissioners, official Port Orford sat up and took notice. On August 8, Curry County Planning Director Crockett was invited to a PO Council workshop. Many thought she should have taken the initiative and come to town long before. Doesn’t the UGB Joint Management Agreement between city and county require coordination of zoning changes?
Crockett’s responses to questions about STRs were brief and unsatisfactory. What about a moratorium or a cap in the face of an anticipated landslide of applications? No, the county wants to enact the regulations without restrictions, Crockett said, but it could be brought up during the BOC hearing on August 17. She told the PO Council that she did not know how many STRs are in the UGB currently. Since then, she has given the figure of 426 “in the county,” meaning all lands outside the three Curry cities. Some of these are known to be illegally sited on resource lands – farms and forests.
Some of what Crockett said was odd. “The code changes are not meant to increase density, but opportunity” for contractors to build workforce housing in the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) around the city. Again, commercial interests are being privileged over residents. The council met on August 12 to work out a position on the zoning amendments, which was communicated in a letter delivered to the BOC at the August 17 hearing.
The Decision and the Aftermath
Nearly two dozen North County residents gave oral testimony on August 17, and there were many letters sent to the BOC. Yet Herzog and Boice, the two commissioners present, sat through the public comment, joking with the audience from time to time. Then they got down to business, voting to approve the amendments exactly as presented by the planning director. There was no discussion.
When the room erupted in dismay after the decision, the commissioners tried to defuse the situation, declaring that they “love” us in Port Orford. Chair Herzog promised, “it’s not going to be the Wild, Wild West . . . , if things go crazy we can fix it. We can.” Empty promises, all things considered. They have granted rights with this law that won’t be easy to claw back. We recommend watching the public comment portion of the hearing on this video, starting at 2 hours and 15 minutes in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmijYZvrUBQ.
Final adoption of ZOA-2022.1 was set for September 7. Because it was on the consent calendar, no discussion could take place during regular order. But again citizens spoke up during public comment, urging the BOC to remove the item from the consent calendar and revisit the most egregious parts of the legislation. And again they refused to change one word and voted unanimously (all three commissioners were present) to adopt.
The Port Orford City Council met on August 12 to consider what message to send down to the Board of Commissioners for its hearing on the 17th. A letter was drafted by the city administrator ahead of the meeting, and another letter (written by the mayor?) was in a handout available at the door. Did they choose one? No. Did they offer a third alternative? No. Will we know what the council is going to say before the 17th? Again, no.
The decision was made to have the mayor, city administrator, and city attorney draft yet another letter “expressing all of these concerns.” Concerns that, presumably . . . well, we don’t know exactly what they will be. Many approaches were discussed, both general and specific. Many concerns have been stated by the public and reiterated in meetings and in written comments.
So let’s just throw it all in a hat and hand that off to the BOC?
What we suspect is that the letter will not assert the city’s legal right to be at the table when any long-range planning is done in the Urban Growth Boundary — as mandated in the comprehensive plans of both Port Orford and Curry County, in the Joint Management Agreement between city and county, and in state planning goals and other statutes. Why not? The city does not want to be “insulting.” The city does not want to be “inflammatory.”
As the mayor seems to believe, “we don’t have much power and that’s why we need to be respectful . . . we’re asking them to have a conversation with us.”
But the city attorney advised the council that “if there are going to be appeals” and “if the city is going to be a party,” then “specific issues need to be brought up now and made a part of the record at the BOC meeting.” Yes, this is the way a land use hearing works, folks. If the BOC approves the zoning changes on the 17th, then the opportunity for conversation goes away. Except perhaps among the lawyers.
One thing that all seemed to agree on was the need to hit the pause button. We hope that the council’s letter will ask (demand would be a better word, given the circumstances) that (a) the BOC defer its decision on the zoning amendments, (b) continue the hearing, and (c) leave the record open for further testimony. Then Port Orford may have a chance to speak up and exert some control over future growth in its UGB.
Unless that happens, the time for talking will be over.
There’s still time for YOU to contact the BOC with YOUR concerns! And please tell them to slow the train down so that Port Orford can climb aboard.
The hearing is at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, August 17, at the County Annex, 94235 Moore St., Gold Beach. Attend in person, or follow on YouTube (you will have no opportunity to speak unless you are at the meeting in person).
The Port Orford City Council met in a workshop on Monday, August 8, with Curry County Planning Director Becky Crockett. At the top of the agenda were the proposed zoning code changes as they relate to Port Orford’s Urban Growth Boundary. Crockett’s responses to questions from the council were often brief and seldom expansive, but a few things that were said stood out.
Crockett, who called herself the “author” of the changes, said a few words about how they came about. Then a councilor started the discussion by saying that the unregulated number of short-term rentals (STRs) was by far the biggest concern. Could a moratorium be put on them? Another councilor is worried that there will be a “landslide” of new applications, and he felt we should get out ahead of that possibility.
Crockett said that the issue of a potential moratorium has come up in discussions before the planning commission and the board of commissioners, but “they would actually like to put in place regulatory requirements ahead of making a determination” whether a moratorium is necessary. “That’s the position of those two bodies at this point.”
Later, she said that the council could bring ideas for a moratorium or a cap on STRs to the board of commissioners before their meeting on August 17, when the zoning changes are on the agenda. The BOC may go ahead and approve the changes without, but Port Orford could ask that the number of new STR applications in the UGB be tracked. If there’s still concern, the city could come back and ask the BOC to reassess.
Crockett said she does not know how many STRs are in the UGB currently.
Some of what Crockett said seemed counterintuitive. “The code changes are not meant to increase density, but opportunity” for contractors to build “workforce” housing. She stated that most construction now is for large, expensive single-family homes, and gave $557,000 as the median home sale price in Curry County, as of April. So, how would the code changes create incentive?
“We don’t think we’re allowing higher density,” Crockett said. “We’re spreading out density.” In the UGB, minimum lot size is one acre, unless municipal water and sewer are available. (They are not.) She said septic system requirements from DEQ would discourage triplexes and fourplexes. She did not explain why they would be permitted anyway.
When asked if increasing housing was mandated, Crockett said, “The state’s mandates are focused on large cities,” but Curry County has previously declared a housing emergency.
An overarching question brought up by the mayor was how do we plan for this increased population in the UGB and potential annexation? Crockett said that revising the Comprehensive Plan would facilitate a discussion of how to grow.
Looks like we’re going to get a meeting (workshop) with Port Orford and Curry County officials and the public, August 8 at 4:30. Read the packet materials below. Review the county zoning amendments that affect Port Orford. Curry County Zoning Amendments – July 21, 2022
Be there. And keep speaking up beforehand! Besides the Board of Commissioners, communicate with the PO City Council (City Hall, 541-332-3681 / https://portorford.org/city-council/). The UGB should not be more dense than the city, Curry County needs to coordinate planning with PO, and we want commonsense STR and ADU policies that we work out for ourselves!
It is obvious to most of us, including elected and appointed officials in PO, that there has been a major failure of communication and cooperation regarding the proposed county zone amendments. (See previous posts.) Where the fault lies is less important right now than the need to slow the train down before it fatally derails.
There are rumblings of a kind of summit meeting in the works involving Port Orford (Council and Planning) and the Curry County Board of Commissioners. Also at the table may be the state Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), which manages urban growth and protects coastal areas, among other functions.
What can the ordinary citizen do at this point?
First, keep eyes on the process. Today, August 2, the PO Planning Commission meets at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall. Unfortunately, a packet for the meeting is not available on the city web site, though it was shared with some in the city. It will be a hybrid meeting. Call City Administrator Jessica Ginsburg (541-655-0044) for information on how to join in. Or maybe the information will be on https://portorford.org/planning-commission/ later today.
Second, immediately write and/or call the Curry County Board of Commissioners and each commissioner individually to ask them to slow the train down and get all of the parties to the table. Time is of the essence, because the new zoning amendments will be on the table for the August 17 meeting and could be approved then and there.
Last Thursday’s County Planning Commission hearing was a shock to the six folks from Port Orford and Langlois who showed up to bring the word from Far North Curry. The massive amendments to county zoning passed unanimously, with no response to testimony from the public. The entire meeting took just over one hour. An hour . . . to casually apply radical changes to land use all over the county. Outside of public comment from one Brookings resident, no other area was heard from! This is proof that public notice was wildly inadequate, as vigilant Port Orford residents pointed out. Most citizens had no idea what was being proposed.
Clearly, the Planning Commission, and Planning Director Becky Crockett, wanted it this way. NONE of the letters of testimony (at least four that we know of) were available to the public, NONE of the written or in-person testimony was addressed during the hearing, and NO questions were asked of anyone who testified. Instead, Director Crockett and the commission spent their time on defense. To those attending virtually, their discussion took place behind a black screen, since the camera in the hearing room was off. It was difficult to see who was talking, and the sound was bad. No commissioner identified him- or herself when speaking.
“Most people are glad we’re doing this,” was one statement. (How do you know?) And “we’ve been working on this for the last year.” (Really?) As a citizen accurately commented, “the zone amendment language was not publicly available before May 2022.” And one commissioner actually stated, “You can’t please everybody, as Commissioner [Court] Boice says.”
Boice himself was at the meeting, though the zoning matter will now come before the BOC in August. (Was this appropriate?) Also present was State Representative David Brock Smith, who spoke in “enthusiastic support” of the zoning text amendments, calling it “brilliant work.” He also disparaged the Port Orford speakers, saying that “they don’t live or own property in this area” under consideration. Besides being untrue and prejudicial, this was way out of line for an elected official. Interestingly, Smith said that he had had “multiple conversations with all of the entities.” He neglected to elaborate as to when and how he had “conversed” with the Port Orford City Council or Planning Commission. We attend every meeting and have never heard him speak on this topic.
An Urban Growth Area Joint Management Agreement between Port Orford and Curry County has been in effect since 1978. It mandates that “The Port Orford Planning Commission will be notified of any applications received by the Curry County Planning Commission for Comprehensive Plan changes, zone change, conditional use change” in the UGB. In addition, the Port Orford Comprehensive Plan specifies that “long-range planning and other matters of mutual concern” in the UGB will be coordinated with the county.
These zone changes are supposed to increase affordable housing opportunities, but will they? Or will the higher densities and lower approval standards just encourage more short-term rentals? This will surely continue to price out permanent residents, including necessary workers in the local economy. Not to mention that the Curry County Housing Action Plan of 2018 recognized that Port Orford may want to “focus on infill single-family workforce units that are compatible with its neighborhood fabric.” Since the UGB is destined to become part of Port Orford, as infrastructure and other conditions allow, it should match the city’s character , not grow far more dense. To create new housing, it would be most sensible to fill vacant parcels within the city first, while curbing sprawl around its edges.
Are we outraged yet? The Board of Commissioners will likely hear the matter on August 17. Let them know your thoughts!
Curry County’s New Codes Will Allow Short-Term Rentals with Minimal Restrictions
It’s no secret that the proliferation of vacation rentals on the Oregon coast is a problem. For residents, for towns, for semi-rural neighborhoods. Who does not have a problem? It’s the outside investors who’ve been quietly buying up “undervalued” properties since the Great Recession of 2008. We’ve seen how this has increased exponentially since early 2020, when the pandemic first hit. Suddenly Port Orford had an influx of visitors fleeing far-flung urban areas. It became a game to check out license plates around town. People were coming not only from California, but also from the East Coast, Canada, and everywhere. And they were staying in vacation rentals, because where else?
Port Orford, and the Curry coast in general, are late to the party when it comes to regulating vacation rentals, also known as short-term rentals (STRs). We’re used to seasonal visitors, it’s true. But now we’re catching up with places to the north that are actively battling with the year-round boom fueled by Airbnb, Vacasa, VRBO, and many lesser known agencies. An internet search for Oregon Coast Vacation Rentals shows how pervasive they are. While you’re on the ‘net, take a look at the experiences of Lincoln County and Clatsop County.
Curry has not come up with adequate regulations to handle the myriad issues before now, when it’s impossible to ignore that STRs are spreading beyond the cities. The problem is that the solutions presented by the county planning department would seem to serve business owners and outside investors rather than residents, who will feel the impacts most.
Take for example the fact that if these proposed new codes for unincorporated areas are approved, each STR will get the go-ahead from planning – specifically, the Planning Director. (Under her sole discretion?) An STR will be permitted “subject to compliance with zoning standards and planning clearance.” Per the codes, there will be NO hearing and NO notice to neighbors. There will be NO cap on numbers, size, or types of rental. If it’s allowed in the code (and many types of dwelling are), then it will be permitted. Hello duplex, triplex, or fourplex dwellings for rent, in the R-2 zone, for example. The closer to the beaches, the rivers and lakes, and other attractions, the higher the density we can expect.
It will be the responsibility of the county code enforcement officer to determine if any complaints about STRs warrant issuance of a citation (violation). If complaints result in three or more separate violations in one year, the Planning Director (again) may revoke the land use permit. But, a new permit may be applied for after a year elapses. Permits do not expire and may be transferred if the property is sold. Once in, these rentals will be hard to police and harder to revoke.
As we’ve posted before, Port Orford is currently crafting its own STR regulations. Will they come soon enough? Will they preserve our liveability? Will our codes matter, if unincorporated county areas all around us are uncontrolled? We’ll see. What counts right now is what’s coming at us fast from Gold Beach.
Port Orford is currently working on commonsense regulations for our town aimed at governing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Short-Term Rentals (STRs, aka vacation rentals). ADUs could help relieve the shortage of affordable housing by allowing additional structures to be built on properties that now are limited to just one dwelling. An ADU could then be used as a rental, either short- or long-term. But if an ADU is turned into another vacation rental (of which PO has many already), the lack of affordable housing will only worsen. We hope that the city will take time to study the situation, get good legal advice, and do what’s best, while avoiding the inevitable pressure to maximize investor profit above all.
Curry County’s not-so-sensitive solution to ADU and STR regulation, however, is barreling toward us at warp speed. If approved, multiple changes to county zoning will open up virtually all rural zones to ADUs and STRs. Other Oregon cities and counties have fought this, with some success. Those residents got fed up with the problems associated with unrestricted growth of this kind, driven in large part by outside investors and big marketer-managers such as Airbnb.
So what is the county proposing? When? How? The county planning commission is holding a hearing on July 21 that will be the first shot in an effort to change county codes on ADUs, STRs, and more. It’s a BIG agenda! (Also on the docket is approval of a seven-parcel subdivision off Cemetery Loop, just outside the city limits, in the Urban Growth Boundary.)
If the changes are approved, STRs in unincorporated rural areas will be permitted under land use regulations – in addition to being licensed as businesses, the way it is done in PO. So even though these STRs in the UGB may be literally down the street from our homes in PO, we will have no say in regulating them. They will be locked in via land use permits with the county, which are difficult to oppose. And if the STR is also an accessory dwelling, the impacts will be doubled.
These next-door rentals will not have the same rules, and they will certainly affect life in PO. We foresee problems with density, liveability, traffic, affordable housing, as well as stresses on businesses and public services in our towns – not to mention nuisances or even crime. Good luck getting the BOC to pay attention to our problems up here in Far North County then.
Now is the time to be aware and get involved! The good news is that we’re still in the early stage, before the planning commission. But if the BOC goes ahead and approves these changes on a recommendation from the planning commission, we will have little recourse. In Clatsop County, outraged residents are right now gathering signatures for a ballot referendum to overturn their STR ordinance. It can be done, but why not stop it now?