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