New Lows

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On January 21, the Port Orford City Council met to conclude its public hearing on maximum building heights in all city zones. The hearing, which began on November 19, had been continued for two months, but with public comment accepted only through December 3.

This lengthy pause should have ensured that councilors had plenty of time to read the many comments, study the record, and review municipal zoning. To get fully up to speed. But when the council finally met, they seemed completely unprepared.

Many questions were asked of the City Planner and City Attorney – procedural and factual questions that should have been asked in advance of the hearing. No wonder there were questions. The staff report was a rambling mess, giving councilors no brisk guidance through a maze of officialese. No clear cues were given on what was important to consider. Each decision involved a labored groping for a motion to be made. Discussion consisted of each councilor reciting their stock views. And the council never did address a number of changes to the code language that were presented in the report, outside of bare numbers.

Some councilors were unfamiliar with zone locations or had trouble reading the map. Pointing out these and other facts was time-consuming. And in fact, the map they were using was submitted electronically by a member of the public because there is no official one. As the planner said during the hearing, “Port Orford has always had a problem with maps.” How, after your decades with the city, could it still be the case that there is no official map?

But the deeply shocking thing was the disregard for what the people of Port Orford were saying. The vast majority called for lowering building heights in most zones to no more than 30 feet, with some preferring 25 or 28 feet. Yet no reference was made to these comments. Did councilors read them? Did they look at the petition with 80-plus signatures?

The elephant in the room was ignored. And in truth, it is a very big elephant. What about the city’s water problems? The aging water/sewer infrastructure? The importance of water availability and water pressure in fighting fires? Nobody wanted to go there, so they ignored it as a factor in their decisions.

Also, not much was said by councilors about preserving Port Orford’s coastal village character through good planning. In fact, they tiptoed around the idea of regulation as if it might bite. One even worried about people “losing their freedoms,” as if property rights (whatever that might mean) were sacrosanct. The people in mind, of course, are not local citizens, but speculators from outside the community. In the name of some nebulous “economic development,” any and all investment should be encouraged?

It is foolish to think change is not coming. But without wise planning, there will be no way to roll with it and still keep Port Orford the town we know and love. The place we chose for its beauty and liveability. The home that we choose to fight for, with value far beyond dollars and cents. Once big, expensive condos and hotels block the ocean views, McMansions loom over our neighborhoods, and commercial chains line Highway 101, there’s no going back. We’ve become another Lincoln City.

The talk around town was …

“I don’t feel like the community has been heard.”

“Council read the Ordinances? Why they might get a paper cut if they did that.”

“Everyone seemed to be so afflicted by the concept of ANY limits!”

“An incredible failure of their duty. They seemed to be acting on their own desires, not taking into account the many, many public comments.”

“Can we ask the Mayor to open this up for further discussion at the next meeting?”

“Can we do a recall? If Council isn’t listening to the citizens of Port Orford, they need to be replaced.”

“There are some significant decisions coming up that will be of equal impact to the town [as building heights], and I’m concerned.”


Here is a link to the council packet for the January 21 meeting, with comments from citizens starting on page 17.

By the numbers, these are the new maximum height limits council mandated. Complete information will be forthcoming in the form of findings, to be prepared by the city planner and city attorney for approval at the February meeting.

1-R (residential) 30 feet, 2 stories (formerly 35)

2-R (residential, higher density) 30 feet, 2 stories (formerly 35)

4-C (commercial and residential) 45 feet (no change)

5-I  (industrial) 45 feet (formerly no limit)

6-CD (controlled development; natural resources) 30 feet (formerly no limit)

7-MA (marine activity) 45 feet (no change)

8-PF (public facilities, parks) no limit (no change)

9-SO (shoreland overlay) 30 feet (formerly no limit)

10-MU (Battle Rock mixed use) 35 feet (formerly 45)

The Municipal Code can be found at

Interactive zoning map