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

The Cove at Port Orford: Vacation Rentals are Sinking Life for Locals

The Cove at Port Orford, as planned

Ground has just been broken for construction of a multi-unit condominium on a bluff overlooking Battle Rock Beach in Port Orford. It will be known as The Cove at Port Orford. The photo shows the designer’s projection of what the buildings (just left of center) will look like in the actual setting. Note that just behind is the OSU Field Station (only the blue roof shows) and to the right are buildings along Hwy. 101 (Redfish, Hawthorne Gallery, and others).

The dark-brown, boxlike structures were originally permitted as a two-story, six-unit vacation rental. At least that’s how it started in PO. The actual construction permits from the county seem to be varying from that. Word has it that now the plan is for five units (one box will combine the two floors), and the original “single-family dwelling” designation has switched to “commercial.” To us, this seems like a substantial change, requiring a different set of requirements and additional scrutiny. Is it happening? Good question.

To many, this project is coming as a complete surprise. When a proposal comes to the city, if it checks all the boxes as a use permitted outright by the zoning codes, then it can be “cleared” by staff without going before planning or the city council. This is an “administrative decision.” Then it goes forward to the county for a full construction review. That happened here.

In the past, PO has found that changes to plans were sometimes made at the county level and not reported back. Result: A built structure that varies from what the city originally allowed – sometimes wildly, and sometimes unlike what was approved. Recently, the process was changed to require keeping the city in the loop. Was it done for these condos? Who knows?

Because Port Orford only recently began considering the regulation of short-term rentals (vacation rentals), this proposal slid in under the wire, evading the current moratorium on new ones. And also, the builder got (when?) a city water connection before the current moratorium on water hook-ups. Pretty neat, right?

We hope this is the last time somebody gets to plunk down such an out-of character monstrosity in our low-key seaside village. And hey, people, can you at least modify the color to blend in better? Everybody who visits the beach or stops to take in the view from the Visitor Center will get an eyeful of your moneymaker. How about a nice gray, or pale blue, or cream, or even yellow? We have to say, that brown just looks crappy.

Below is the Port Orford planning clearance form for the project, located at 251 Fifth Street. Note that the plan may have been revised at the city level. Also, the construction permit issued by Curry County almost certainly will vary, perhaps radically. We hope to have the permit to post in the near future.

The Tower Completeness Check

Here is the response from the Port Orford City Planner to the tower application. Please note the statements about variances from the city code. We believe that the developer will have difficulty complying without a variance, will not receive a variance if one is requested, and will (if he persists) have to apply again under the new height limit restrictions — which will kill the tower project. Something more appropriate to Port Orford and the location would be welcome!

What’s Happening with the Tower? An Update

The historical Forty House, SW corner of Highway 101 and 8th Street.

Almost 200 signatures were gathered on the petition opposing the tower planned for 8th Street and Highway 101. Signers have by now received a thank-you and a link to the signed petition with its many great comments. The petition was submitted to the Port Orford City Council before their last meeting, on January 20. Unfortunately, the issue was again not on the agenda for discussion. The official process for dealing with the tower continues to be opaque rather than open and public.

Nevertheless, a citizen filed a records request and received the city planner’s “Completeness Check” for the tower project. This nine-page document lays out a number of conditions that need to be satisfied before the application is deemed complete and can be “cleared” to move to the building permit stage.

Not surprisingly, there were numerous issues.

The report states that “there is no organized plan depicting all the features to be included, the locations of the features on structures or on the lot itself . . .” and without such a site plan, actually “there is no organized application to be reviewed.”

Plus, the claim that the tower would be used for tsunami evacuation was not supported by evidence that it complies with state law for such structures.

“Where the applicant does not demonstrate compliance with any standard,” the planner states, “the applicant will be required to apply for a variance.” Such a variance must be submitted to the planning commission for review.

Can the applicant revise his proposal to satisfy the criteria? If not, and if he persists, we citizens may get the public process we’ve requested and be allowed to have a say on whether we want the tower to be built or not. For now, the application is in limbo.

The bigger question is, does this outsized colossus meet the intent of the Battle Rock mixed-use zone, which is to “maintain small coastal town ambiance and small town neighborhood character”?

To that, 200 people have firmly responded NO.

Sign the Petition Against the Tower!

Over 100 members of the Port Orford community have voiced opposition to a proposed 160-foot tower at 8th Street and Highway 101. This proposal remains active in the City of Port Orford’s planning process. As the proposal works its way through this planning process, the community must voice its strong opposition to ensure that the proposal does not succeed. If you agree, please sign this petition. Results will be made public, and shared with City of Port Orford elected officials and staff.

SIGN THE PETITION AT THE LINK BELOW TO SAY: I oppose the construction of a tower at 8th Street and Highway 101 in Port Orford!!!

It’s Our Town, If We Can Keep It

Port Orford, about 1990

As the story goes, after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall when a woman asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin’s response was both witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can
keep it.”

On the streets of Port Orford we’re pondering a similar dilemma: Is it our town? Can we keep it?

Those were the questions that resonated beneath the public comments at the December city council meeting. A meeting whose agenda did not include discussing the proposed tower on 8th Street and Hwy. 101, in spite of multiple requests by citizens. A meeting where the mayor’s words contradicted the city administrator’s. Where the city’s lawyer tried repeatedly to stuff the jack back into the box, and where yet again we learn that a major decision is in the hands of a single person.

If you hung on to the end of the meeting, you finally got to hear a small handful of residents plead (yes, that was the word used) with the council. Said Tim Palmer, “If you can’t right here and now take action to require a public process [on the tower] . . . at least please take action to require our city administrator and our planner to not approve this project until it comes back to council to consider this question of allowing your citizens some input on the biggest project ever to affect us in this town.”

The tower part of the developer’s proposal “has enormous consequences,” Palmer added. “It would change the appearance and character of our town indelibly forever, like nothing else has ever done.” The loss of privacy is a concern, with “tourists 160 feet up in the air watching everything down below. It would be a major drop in the quality of life.” Not to mention problems with wind, an earthquake or tsunami, and noise, plus “this is going to kill birds
like crazy.”

Early in the meeting, Mayor Pat Cox explained why the issue was not on the agenda. “It’s not an action item. . . . We can’t talk about it yet.” But, he said, “I’m 99 percent sure that it will be going to planning for review, passed on by the planning director.”

The city attorney, Shala Kudlac, quickly stepped in. “You don’t really want to have ex parte contact with community members. It’s supposed to land on your desk fresh. You really want to not engage in the subject until it’s properly before you.”

Does that mean the planning commission will open a public process about the proposal? City Administrator Jessica Ginsburg said, “Not necessarily, no.” Kudlac clarified that the planning director, “will make the decision whether to send it up. Based on the type of application it is.”

This was slightly encouraging. The initial word from the city had been that if the tower proposal literally “checked all the boxes” on the application for plan clearance, then it had to be approved with no further review.

Was the city attorney right to caution the council not to talk about the proposal? It isn’t currently on their docket for a decision, so ex parte rules shouldn’t apply. There’s currently no legal proceeding under way that would require notice to an opposing party – in this case, the developer. The advice seemed overly risk-averse.

The council did eventually agree to put the tower proposal on the agenda for January. And there was another promising sign: There was consensus to review the codes to give citizens more input on what is built in Port Orford. To “change the playbook.” That’s down the road a way, however. For now we wait. And enjoy the presently clear sky.

You can view the meeting on YouTube:

The Colossus (An Update)

Viewed from the food co-op. (artist rendering)

The many letters sent by citizens asking for the Port Orford City Council to discuss the proposed tower on 8th Street at their meeting on Thursday were not heeded. The city administrator did not even pass the letters on to councilors (according to personal communications we have from them). Presumably, the mayor saw the letters, or at least was aware of the requests, but he did not agree to put the item on the agenda. What the city administrator did was include the page reproduced below in the council packet. (Click on “tower-communique” to see it.)

How likely is it that the tower developer will abandon his colossus? Why did he propose it in the first place? Will he listen to public opinion, communicated on Facebook and in many private meetings with individuals?

Nobody thinks the tower is a good or workable idea – and many are openly derisive about it. And what the heck is this “raffle” idea all about? It is no substitute for a public process! Let the proposal be withdrawn and a new one submitted under the new height limits! It’s only reasonable!

Equally important is the fact that citizen communications, submitted by the rules and through the proper channel, were ignored. Trust has been broken. Can a decision be made on the tower by just one person, the city administrator, based on her reading of the local ordinances? Does she consult with anyone? Do we really have no recourse on this, even when it’s so outrageous? The system is broken.

The council needs to hear from YOU before or during the meeting on Thursday. Though the topic cannot be addressed at the beginning of the meeting, because it isn’t on the agenda, there will be an opportunity under Citizen Considerations at the very end.

This will be a hybrid meeting, which you can attend in person in the council chambers, or by phone, or virtually with the GoToMeeting app. See how to join in here, which is also a link to the agenda and packet:

Colossus on the Coast

View from 9th St. and Hwy. 101 (artist rendering)

Just after the Port Orford City Council approved the second of two ordinances this year defining building heights, we learn of an application to build a colossal tower on the highway in our town. The second building heights ordinance goes into effect on December 16, 2021. The tower project was submitted before the council took action, and was intended to evade the new restrictions. Here is what it would look like, as well as the application detail. As of this writing on December 9, the city has not yet given clearance for the project to move forward. The next step would be applying for a building permit from Curry County. No public hearing is anticipated either in Port Orford or Gold Beach. Community members are concerned and, frankly, outraged that such a monstrosity could be contemplated here — much less actually constructed. Below is the application, in full. Click on 8th St Community Corner to bring up a PDF. Above and below are privately produced to-scale images based on the measurements of the (misleading) application sketch.

Aerial view, with curve of Hwy. 101 at 8th St. shown

The Water “Emergency” We All Saw Coming

The City of Port Orford has declared an emergency regarding the Hubbard Creek impoundment for our water. Special city council sessions were held virtually on Friday, August 27, and Tuesday, August 31. With a bare 24 hours notice of Friday’s meeting, few if any citizens were alerted to attend. Requests for a link to the meeting have been ignored. What we do know is that it was the setup for the ban on “nonessential” water use enacted at Tuesday’s meeting. See the details here:

The council did not allow any public questioning, comment, or other participation at these meetings – notwithstanding the fact that most citizens are city water ratepayers and have not been given any explanation of how the situation has been allowed to get this bad. Lack of dredging in the impoundment was cited, which in turn has been blamed on the Army Corps of Engineers and various regulatory agencies.

We suspect that declaring an emergency is a ploy designed as part of an appeal for aid directed to the entities named: the county, the state, and (yes!) even the President of the United States. And the so-called ban is to indicate that PO is doing its job. (Actually, one of the restrictions makes a lot of sense, and it should have been instituted long before now – no new water hookups!)

Why haven’t we gotten reports on this VITAL aspect of municipal responsibility all along? What actions have been taken? What are the various water sources “in and around the city of Port Orford” that are being looked into? What will the costs be for that, and who will pay? And how could any usage ban be expected to work, given that no oversight, no enforcement, and no penalties will be involved? If it’s simply an honor system, why enact a resolution at all? Just put out a post on Facebook.

In fact, one councilor jumped the gun by posting on Facebook about the coming action. This is how citizens first learned what was up. There are few who don’t want to do their part to ease the coming hardship. But some of us want to know more and are not content with the “because I say so” attitude of the city. We’re in that group.

On Tuesday, there was no discussion of either the emergency declaration or the ban on nonessential water use before the votes were taken. The ban is set to expire on November 1; it could be lifted earlier if conditions change. That is, if we get rain or if the situation at the Hubbard Creek impoundment improves. So to recap: No official explanation, staff report, or justification was given to the public and the water ratepayers for these votes.

Those who stuck around in the virtual meeting after the voting were able to get a little insight into what’s been going on. Councilors, the new administrator, and the public works director chatted for some time about their recent activities. But since the public did not have the benefit of the various reports or meetings with contractors being discussed, it was more of a puzzle than not. But here a few highlights that we were able to glean:

Number one problem: The impoundment dam is rotted. There is a temporary liner in the impoundment that allows some water to be captured from Hubbard Creek. The administrator and public works director have met with engineers (or others? some free professional advisors?). The holes in the dam were plugged with dirt, allowing some water gain.

The impoundment is silting up, limiting the holding capacity. One councilor opined that probably two-thirds has been lost. Dredging has not been done for eight or nine years, with the exception of last year, said another councilor. And no one seemed to know how or when the amount of siltation allowed by the Army Corps of Engineers to be removed was reduced from 2,000 yards to only 25 yards. (And we are told that recent applications for a dredging permit have not been successful.)

Second biggest emergency: The pump at the tank on Coast Guard Hill is vibrating and leaking; it is about to go and can’t be rebuilt. There is an immediate repair that can be done to keep up pressure, but a new pump is needed and major changes to the pumphouse for a new skid.

Leaks. There have been nine leaks on city pipelines in the last week and a half, said the public works guy. With a full crew only three days a week, just about the only thing they are doing now is fixing leaks that spring up. Of course this water loss is exacerbating the impoundment insufficiecy. The city has been told that our usual monthly water loss of up to 50 percent is far higher than the 15 percent that would be acceptable in a municipal system.

In short, the longtime deferred maintenance on Port Orford’s water infrastructure has now resulted in a cascade of dire problems. It remains to be seen just what the remedies will be. It is clear that they will be neither swift, nor cheap. Oh, and it was suggested that a new water rate study is needed. That means we can look forward to paying more in the future. Let’s hope we get a fair return on that money – not just more band-aids on the gaping wounds.