Happy 2023?

The year 2022 was a disaster for governance in Curry County. Again the budget process was chaos, and the spending spree continues. Recom-mendations from the committee to advise on allocating American Rescue Plan funds were ignored. The Board of Commissioners picked some pet projects to funnel the money to, and the Sheriff got a bundle of it. A much needed plan for transitional housing for the homeless was turned down for ARP funding, and the most negative elements in the community bullied and harangued the applicant in public meetings. A local radio program aired a well-researched episode on county corruption – and named names.

The decision to radically revise zoning in county-controlled areas was one of the worst of the year. If it stands, the new zoning ordinance will change our communities radically, opening the floodgates to short-term vacation rentals virtually everywhere outside the three cities. Because this new STR regula-tion confers land-use rights, it will be extremely difficult to rein in bad actors. Enforcement of regulations to ensure liveability for residents will be a nightmare – as counties and cities in Oregon, indeed all over the world, already know. The county currently has no cap in place on the number of STRs permitted. And this disruption may be coming to a neighborhood
near you.

The new ordinance also ups the allowable housing density in rural zones. While new, affordable housing is badly needed, this is not the way to get it. Assumptions were made by the planning director that some developers are not going to be able to comply with existing requirements, say for siting a septic system, and that will suffice to limit overweening applicants. As development moves out to rural areas, little consideration is being given to impacts on adjacent resource lands, resources such as drinking water, transportation deficits, and fire protection. Can already budget-stressed
Curry County meet these additional needs?

All of the above is prologue and context for the following update.

As soon as the new zoning code was enacted in September, it was appealed by two citizens and Oregon Coast Alliance to the Land Use Board of Appeals. One of those citizens also began a referendum to place the code on the ballot in 2024. 100 Friends of Port Orford has supported both efforts, raising money for attorneys and more.

The LUBA appeal is stalled because the county’s record of proceedings is incomplete and otherwise shoddy, which the county is disputing. We are confident that this eventually will be resolved by the parties’ lawyers, but the fact that numerous public comments were omitted from the record the county submitted is troubling. Only issues raised in the hearing and in public comment and included in the record may be considered in the appeal.

The referendum did not get off the ground, unfortunately. The county clerk refused to approve the petition for circulation, citing the opinion of the former county counsel – given on his way out the door to a better job. He stated that the ordinance was adopted as an emergency land use decision and thus was “outside the scope of actions subject to the local referendum process” per the Oregon Constitution. Well, no, it wasn’t.

As the petitioner’s attorney responded, the ordinance makes no mention of emergency circumstances or states any reason that it should take effect immediately. The county was seriously in error in refusing to certify the signature petition, denying citizens the statutory 90 days to refer such a nonemergency ordinance to the electorate. Nevertheless, the county’s disingenuous footdragging ran out the clock, and the deadline for filing a referendum passed in early December. This creates a dangerous precedent for citizen activism in the future.

The LUBA appeal continues. And a parallel effort is ongoing to convince the BOC, through its current legal counsel, to voluntarily withdraw the ordinance and cure the worst of the problems. Given the county’s conduct to date, we are not hopeful that the BOC will do the right thing on its own. So far, more than a dozen STRs are on track for approval under the new ordinance. Walking that back will not be easy. Once permitted as a land use, rather than as simply another business, STRs gain significant advantages and cannot be curtailed, limited, or eliminated. Good news for nonresident investors; not so for the rest of us.