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:

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:

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 . . .