In August, something alerted the Port Orford City Council (CC) to the possibility of new development proposals downtown, where the maximum allowable building height is 45 feet in both the 4-C (commercial) and the 10-MU (mixed use) zones along Highway 101. Because Port Orford currently has few structures approaching 30 feet tall, any new buildings at 45 feet would be jarring. The council decided to mandate 25 feet maximum heights in ALL zones. The Planning Commission (PC) was instructed to rewrite the zoning code to achieve these changes. This was done and approved. The CC then sent notice of public hearings on these new land use regulations, as required by state law.
All well and good. Concerned citizens sent letters, issues were aired, and opinions were expressed at two hearings in November. The next step was for the council to discuss the proposed height restrictions and take action. But instead, the councilors deferred the matter … to January 2021. What caused them to put the brakes on, when in August it had seemed to be so urgent to take action?
This seems to be a pattern for the city. Discussion often drags on and on, over many months, without a decision. In 2016-2017, the PC deliberated creating an off-street parking ordinance, the CC wrangled over it, appointing committees and subcommittes to try to come to a compromise between factions. Finally, the council just voted no, we’re not going to do this.
Was it weariness? Fear of alienating one side or the other? Insufficient governing experience? Lack of leadership? Poor planning and legal advice? All of the above? The same process is also playing out right now with the Outdoor Lighting Code — formerly known as the Dark Sky Ordinance — which is waiting for approval after reaching a second reading at the CC. Now it’s been bumped to the back of the line.
You have about three days to get your comments about the proposed building height changes to CC by the December 3 deadline. But first, you may want to know more about the issues in play. That’s next.
Know of any town on the West Coast with vacant ocean view parcels downtown? And low real estate prices? Yes, you do! It’s Port Orford. Or it was. In the last year or so, investors have discovered the town and bought up dozens of properties, some that have been on and off the market since the Great Recession. Now the low-hanging fruit is pretty thin on the tree.
Recently, Port Orford woke up from its nap and began to realize that maybe the city isn’t prepared to deal with the mounting development pressures. How does the city grow and prosper without compromising its core values of liveability, small-town character, and natural beauty? What would sustainable growth look like?
The City Council (CC) decided to address at least some of the issues by considering new building height restrictions. First, the Planning Commission (PC) worked on language for the changes to zoning, then held a virtual hearing on November 10. The commissioners voted 4 to 3 to leave the height requirements as is. This was not the wish or the expectation of the council. At its August 20 meeting (https://www.portorford.org/pdfs/2020/08-20-20%20Council.pdf page 3), CC had directed PC to draft language setting allowable building heights to 25 feet across all zones. And to leave the heights as is was not what the PC had decided at a special meeting on September 29. The minutes of the PC’s meetings on September 29 and October 13 are in the packet for the hearing on November 10.
Next, the City Council held a (virtual) de novo hearing on November 19. The City Planner provided the same staff report to the Council as to Planning, with a cover letter indicating the PC’s decision. The notice and staff report are on the city’s web site. Attachments to the staff report represent written public comments presented for the Planning Commission hearing.
At the hearing before the City Council, there were two hours of public testimony. But the decision was made to continue to accept more comment from the public until Thursday, December 3. No December meeting will be held, and the hearing will continue at the regular meeting in January. If you want your views considered, now is the time to get them on the record. Send emails to: the City Administrator, email@example.com. You might also cc the current mayor at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the incoming mayor, email@example.com. Or, you may drop off a printed copy at City Hall. Use the box outside, or put it through the mail slot.
People say, sometimes with sarcasm, are there really that many?! Of course. If you’re reading this, you are one of them. You’re interested, maybe even actively engaged, in the life of Port Orford. Your family has been here for generations (maybe even since the 1850s when this Oldest Townsite on the Oregon Coast was founded). Or you came along a while later and fell in love with its natural beauty, its people, its arts, its history. You own a business. You are retired. You want to raise a family here. It’s a small town, but it’s a big tent.
From our About page: Although there is no formal affiliation, 100 Friends of Port Orford takes its inspiration from 1000 Friends of Oregon, the group that Oregon Governor Tom McCall founded back in 1975 to serve as the watchdog for Oregon’s pioneering land use planning program.
To be added to the 100Friends e-mail list, send a message to: info@100FriendsofPortOrford.org. You may occasionally receive notifications of interesting meetings, as well as relevant news and analysis. There will be opinions. Dueling comments? Not so much.
Here’s the first post we put up on our new Facebook page on November 25, 2020. And we’ve created a new category: Building Height. We want to get people talking about what’s going on in this little village on the coast.
Welcome to the page for 100 Friends of Port Orford! We have been around since 2015, when we first started talking about the golf course proposed for north of town. (Five years on, it’s still no more than a proposal, and their plan to use Port Orford’s recycled water is still a pipe dream.) Along the way, we weighed in on other local growth and planning issues, from commercial development to the city’s water and wastewater master plans. In each case, we sought out and posted as much data and as many public documents as we could find.
Now Port Orford is facing new development pressures. Desirable vacant parcels, especially in its commercial district, are attracting investors from all over. Does city zoning promote sustainable growth and also protect what we love about the town? The city council is currently tackling this question by attempting to legislate lower building height limits. Is this the way forward? More to come on this later. There’s still time to speak to the council, and 100 Friends of Port Orford will help you get the lay of the land. Literally.
Comments are welcome here. Posts are also welcome, but will be reviewed by a moderator before they can appear. To get an idea of who we are, visit the 100FriendsofPortOrford.org blog. It’s here that we intend to post longer essays and supporting documents. Welcome. Come back soon.