Is the building heights issue a done deal? Everybody happy? Probably not the 160 people who signed the petition against keeping the 45-foot limit in the 4-C (commercial) zone. An ill-advised promise that citizens would have another opportunity to have their concerns addressed is looking extremely unlikely.
At its January meeting, part two of the heights hearing, the City Council settled on some desired changes in the residential and 10-MU zones. But it did not alter 4-C, which fronts Hwy. 101 north of the 10-MU and extends for some distance on either side. To be clear, 45-foot buildings are taller than 99 percent of structures that now stand in Port Orford. Many who testified were in favor of lowering virtually all height limits to a maximum of 28 to 30 feet. A petition to that effect circulated prior to the January hearing and was signed by about a hundred people. Plenty of comment letters said the same.
After the January decision, a new petition circulated, gathering 160 signatures. It called on the council to rethink the 4-C height limit in the new ordinance and also remove substantial exceptions that could be allowed for certain types of building, such as hospitals and nursing homes. But because the hearing was closed (since December 3), there could legally be no substantive changes made. So, at its February meeting, the council did a first AND second reading, then passed the new ordinance amending building heights without changes. Afterward, property owners were mailed a notice of the decision, and a draft of the approved ordinance was published. See it at portorford.org.
Okay. Stuff happens. But, muddying the water again, a councilor suggested sending the issue BACK to the Planning Commission for more research and a partial do-over of some sort — according to a post on Facebook. The implication was that we could just keep throwing options at the wall and hoping that they’d stick. This after a full and legal hearing that could reasonably be interpreted as the final word, and after a months-long process involving costs for staff time (Planner, Legal, Clerk), as well as for mailing the notice and the decision.
Still, we attended the virtual Planning Commission meeting last Tuesday to see what would happen. Nothing did. The chair opened the meeting with general remarks about the job of Planning, the need to know “exactly what we’re doing,” and the responsibilities of the commission. She said that she saw the FB post and checked it out with the mayor. He said, “I don’t recall this from the meeting.” Then the commissioners went on to other business.
End of story? It would seem so. Will we see a bunch of 45-foot buildings go up soon? No, likely not (but we can’t rule it out). Height alone is only one factor in the preservation of liveability and village character in Port Orford. We get that. And heights were reduced in the 10-MU and residential zones. But that 45-foot loophole concerns many of us.