How It’s Going

Sign of former times.

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).

BOC_Office@co.curry.or.us
Ph: (541) 247-3296
Fax: (541) 247-2718
(800) 243-1996

John Herzog, BOC Chair
541-247-3260
HerzogJ@co.curry.or.us

Christopher Paasch, BOC Vice Chair
PaaschC@co.curry.or.us
541-373-7203

Court Boice, Commissioner
BoiceC@co.curry.or.us
541-247-3229

Previously reported:

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.

The city council will meet at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 12, to work out a council position on the zoning amendments to be communicated to the BOC. For more information, check https://portorford.org/city-council-meetings/

Here’s Our Chance: Port Orford and Curry County to Meet, August 8

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!

Let’s Get Everyone On Board!

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.

BOC_Office@co.curry.or.us
Ph: (541) 247-3296
Fax: (541) 247-2718
(800) 243-1996

John Herzog, BOC Chair
541-247-3260
HerzogJ@co.curry.or.us

Christopher Paasch, BOC Vice Chair
PaaschC@co.curry.or.us
541-373-7203

Court Boice, Commissioner
BoiceC@co.curry.or.us
541-247-3229

See the proposed amendments here, under July 21 Planning Commission Meeting: https://www.co.curry.or.us/government/planning_commision/index.php?fbclid=IwAR2yQCbDh_wi7CXKB7HK3RFTqCfVNgqIoNuDzc4hkStGO37Oyj4xdCye11s#revize_document_center_rz2436

Future Shock

What’s next for non-urban zoning in Curry County?

Between Curry’s cities . . . the Devil’s Backbone, on the wild coast near Ophir

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!

Is It Sunset Time for Local Tranquillity?

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.

Again, here is a link to the hearing this Thursday, July 21, at 5:30 p.m., and to the proposed code changes. Be aware!
July 21, 2022, Planning Commission Hearing

Curry County Considers Permitting Accessory Dwellings and Short-Term Rentals Outside Cities

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?

Here is a link to the meeting agenda: July 21, 2022 Planning Commission Hearing Notice

This link is to a list of documents laying out the code changes to be considered: July 21, 2022 Planning Commission Documents

The Cove at Port Orford: Vacation Rentals are Sinking Life for Locals

The Cove at Port Orford, as planned

Ground has just been broken for construction of a multi-unit condominium on a bluff overlooking Battle Rock Beach in Port Orford. It will be known as The Cove at Port Orford. The photo shows the designer’s projection of what the buildings (just left of center) will look like in the actual setting. Note that just behind is the OSU Field Station (only the blue roof shows) and to the right are buildings along Hwy. 101 (Redfish, Hawthorne Gallery, and others).

The dark-brown, boxlike structures were originally permitted as a two-story, six-unit vacation rental. At least that’s how it started in PO. The actual construction permits from the county seem to be varying from that. Word has it that now the plan is for five units (one box will combine the two floors), and the original “single-family dwelling” designation has switched to “commercial.” To us, this seems like a substantial change, requiring a different set of requirements and additional scrutiny. Is it happening? Good question.

To many, this project is coming as a complete surprise. When a proposal comes to the city, if it checks all the boxes as a use permitted outright by the zoning codes, then it can be “cleared” by staff without going before planning or the city council. This is an “administrative decision.” Then it goes forward to the county for a full construction review. That happened here.

In the past, PO has found that changes to plans were sometimes made at the county level and not reported back. Result: A built structure that varies from what the city originally allowed – sometimes wildly, and sometimes unlike what was approved. Recently, the process was changed to require keeping the city in the loop. Was it done for these condos? Who knows?

Because Port Orford only recently began considering the regulation of short-term rentals (vacation rentals), this proposal slid in under the wire, evading the current moratorium on new ones. And also, the builder got (when?) a city water connection before the current moratorium on water hook-ups. Pretty neat, right?

We hope this is the last time somebody gets to plunk down such an out-of character monstrosity in our low-key seaside village. And hey, people, can you at least modify the color to blend in better? Everybody who visits the beach or stops to take in the view from the Visitor Center will get an eyeful of your moneymaker. How about a nice gray, or pale blue, or cream, or even yellow? We have to say, that brown just looks crappy.

Below is the Port Orford planning clearance form for the project, located at 251 Fifth Street. Note that the plan may have been revised at the city level. Also, the construction permit issued by Curry County almost certainly will vary, perhaps radically. We hope to have the permit to post in the near future.

The Tower Completeness Check

Here is the response from the Port Orford City Planner to the tower application. Please note the statements about variances from the city code. We believe that the developer will have difficulty complying without a variance, will not receive a variance if one is requested, and will (if he persists) have to apply again under the new height limit restrictions — which will kill the tower project. Something more appropriate to Port Orford and the location would be welcome!

What’s Happening with the Tower? An Update

The historical Forty House, SW corner of Highway 101 and 8th Street.

Almost 200 signatures were gathered on the petition opposing the tower planned for 8th Street and Highway 101. Signers have by now received a thank-you and a link to the signed petition with its many great comments. The petition was submitted to the Port Orford City Council before their last meeting, on January 20. Unfortunately, the issue was again not on the agenda for discussion. The official process for dealing with the tower continues to be opaque rather than open and public.

Nevertheless, a citizen filed a records request and received the city planner’s “Completeness Check” for the tower project. This nine-page document lays out a number of conditions that need to be satisfied before the application is deemed complete and can be “cleared” to move to the building permit stage.

Not surprisingly, there were numerous issues.

The report states that “there is no organized plan depicting all the features to be included, the locations of the features on structures or on the lot itself . . .” and without such a site plan, actually “there is no organized application to be reviewed.”

Plus, the claim that the tower would be used for tsunami evacuation was not supported by evidence that it complies with state law for such structures.

“Where the applicant does not demonstrate compliance with any standard,” the planner states, “the applicant will be required to apply for a variance.” Such a variance must be submitted to the planning commission for review.

Can the applicant revise his proposal to satisfy the criteria? If not, and if he persists, we citizens may get the public process we’ve requested and be allowed to have a say on whether we want the tower to be built or not. For now, the application is in limbo.

The bigger question is, does this outsized colossus meet the intent of the Battle Rock mixed-use zone, which is to “maintain small coastal town ambiance and small town neighborhood character”?

To that, 200 people have firmly responded NO.