We Don’t Need to Be Bandon!

Oregon’s south coast already has one village dominated by golf – the rich person’s sport.

Port Orford has been dogged for years by a golf course developer that offers nothing, but demands access to our recycled water. Why did the city ever think approving this was a good idea? Seven years on, it’s looking more dire than ever. It’s time to rethink renewing the conditional use permits for a fifth time when there’s been no progress from one year to the next.

There’s nothing standing in the way of the city council coming to a different decision at the hearing on April 20. The Land Use Board of Appeals said that Port Orford is free to interpret its code as it sees fit. In fact, there’s everything to recommend an about face.

After all, these golfers (like an increasing number of vacation rental owners and managers) don’t even live here. They just want to make money here. Will a golf course completely outside city control be good for us? No. It will be a completely self-contained system, with golfers playing, maybe eating, and then leaving. They even said that quiet part out loud years ago. “You won’t even know we’re here,” said the developer’s representative at a public meeting.

Think about it. Where’s the benefit?  

There’s plenty of downside. We have serious water infrastructure problems. The city struggles with governance that is dependent on volunteers. The lack of affordable housing hurts people who already live and work here. Money must go out, but it is not exactly flooding in. And the golf course developer will be getting the recycled water for free, according to an agreement made with a former council.

What You Can Do

Please look at the staff report included below. We’ve extracted it from the council packet, along with the agenda for the council meeting. As of today, Sunday, it is not yet publicly available on the city’s web site.

Don’t be fazed by the volume of detail. The important part starts on page 36 of the packet (page 16 of the PDF below). These are the “findings” that ERPD, the would-be golf course developer, has submitted for the city council to adopt. Technically, these are the only facts that can be considered. Never mind any underlying conditions and problems Port Orford is dealing with? You should mind.

Number 10 of the findings is at the heart of the matter. It says in part that “DEQ approval is still needed.” What it doesn’t say is that ERPD has been dragging out DEQ’s recycled water permit process. They simply have not supplied information needed to complete the permit. This allows them to keep coming back for CUP renewals, implying that they need more time because it’s . . . difficult.

Without the permit, they are “excused” from doing any construction. But we suspect that they just can’t find enough investment even to get started. Maybe that’s because Bandon Dunes is building its seventh course now, and Mike Keiser has his eye on property south of Bandon for yet another golf course. A new Bandon Dunes-style megaplex? Where is the incentive in North Curry to compete with that?  

Tell the Port Orford City Council that time is up. Write a letter saying that you want them to deny this extension. They have every right to do so. They should do so. It’s just that simple.

Submit your letter as soon as you can so that the councilors have time to read it, but you have until noon on April 20. See “How to Provide Testimony” in the Appeal Hearing Notice reproduced below. You can also attend the hearing and give oral testimony — or both!

E-mail GMilliman@portorford.org to submit testimony. Gary Milliman is the Interim City Administrator. Jessica Ginsburg is no longer with the city. The main phone number of City Hall is 541-332-3681. The 541-366-4568 number in the notice is for the clerk, but may be more direct.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

It’s been more than seven years since promoters of the (still just a proposal) Pacific Gales Golf Course came to town with their scheme to capture Port Orford wastewater for irrigation. In spite of receiving conditional use permits in 2016 to build a pipeline out beyond the city to their (still farmland) site, the project has not advanced one inch. Brazenly, they have come back year after year (five times now) for time extensions on those CUPs. Port Orford has been extremely lenient in interpreting its Municipal Code to allow the extensions — the Planning Commission did so again this year. But the would-be golf aces have not even been able to obtain the permits needed before they can use a drop of recycled water. We think it’s time to pipe this golf course off the stage for good. Port Orford can and must finally reclaim its water, and its advantage, in land use issues.

An appeal of the 2023 extension is scheduled for April 20. The notice, with maps of the possible pipeline routes, is below.

A Legislative Sneaker Wave

Newly minted State Senator David Brock Smith has joined with Representative Court Boice (just risen from a position as Curry County Commissioner) to introduce SB 948 in the 2023 session. The bill would appropriate “$750,000 for distribution to the City of Port Orford for the purpose of water recycling.” NOT for upgrades to the failing drinking water and sewer systems, but apparently solely for building the pipeline to the proposed Pacific Gales Golf Course. There is no other recycled water project in the wings or even whispered about in our fine coastal village.

Smith has been a promoter of the golf course since it was first proposed in 2014, and of the pipeline for recycled water for irrigating the course since that was proposed in 2016. Port Orford has extended and extended and extended the land use permits for the pipeline, in spite of the plain fact that there has been zero progress in building the golf course. The developers have also failed to obtain a critical permit from the Department of Environmental Quality for applying recycled water to farmland.  

100 Friends of Port Orford opposes both the golf course and the pipeline, which is currently up for its umpteenth permit renewal. Opponents have appealed an approval by the Port Orford Planning Commission last month. As yet, no appeal hearing before the City Council has been scheduled.

Questions about the pipeline have only grown since 2016, especially in view of Port Orford’s critical water situation, officially recognized as an emergency. The city has enacted penalties for higher rates of water usage and also put a moratorium on installation of new water services. Now comes this bill to the rescue . . . of the golf course pipeline? Should Oregon taxpayers be shoring up this creaky private project that will only put increased stress on Port Orford resources? Did Smith and Boice come to Port Orford with the bill before introducing it? We can only speculate about what is going on. But so far, it doesn’t pass the smell test.  

Happy 2023?

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.

Part 2: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

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)!

For the Record: Part 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.

How Did This Happen?

But let’s recap the process that brought us this monster zoning package. For the record. (Review the changes here: https://cms6.revize.com/revize/currycountyor/Zoning%20Code%20Attachments%20-%20Articles%20I%20%20II%20%20III%20%20IV%20and%20%20VIII.pdf)

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.

Part 2: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

To be continued . . .

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).

Ph: (541) 247-3296
Fax: (541) 247-2718
(800) 243-1996

John Herzog, BOC Chair

Christopher Paasch, BOC Vice Chair

Court Boice, Commissioner

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.

Ph: (541) 247-3296
Fax: (541) 247-2718
(800) 243-1996

John Herzog, BOC Chair

Christopher Paasch, BOC Vice Chair

Court Boice, Commissioner

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