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!!!

https://portorford.nationbuilder.com/no_tower_petition

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: https://www.portorford.org/pdfs/2021/CP%2012-16-2021%201.pdf

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: https://www.portorford.org/pdfs/2021/Special%20Session%20CPP%2008-31-2021.pdf

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.

Building Heights: Final Answer

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.

Port Orford Jubilee parade, about 1951

New Lows

Image courtesy of https://blog.portorfordhistoricalphotos.org/

On January 21, the Port Orford City Council met to conclude its public hearing on maximum building heights in all city zones. The hearing, which began on November 19, had been continued for two months, but with public comment accepted only through December 3.

This lengthy pause should have ensured that councilors had plenty of time to read the many comments, study the record, and review municipal zoning. To get fully up to speed. But when the council finally met, they seemed completely unprepared.

Many questions were asked of the City Planner and City Attorney – procedural and factual questions that should have been asked in advance of the hearing. No wonder there were questions. The staff report was a rambling mess, giving councilors no brisk guidance through a maze of officialese. No clear cues were given on what was important to consider. Each decision involved a labored groping for a motion to be made. Discussion consisted of each councilor reciting their stock views. And the council never did address a number of changes to the code language that were presented in the report, outside of bare numbers.

Some councilors were unfamiliar with zone locations or had trouble reading the map. Pointing out these and other facts was time-consuming. And in fact, the map they were using was submitted electronically by a member of the public because there is no official one. As the planner said during the hearing, “Port Orford has always had a problem with maps.” How, after your decades with the city, could it still be the case that there is no official map?

But the deeply shocking thing was the disregard for what the people of Port Orford were saying. The vast majority called for lowering building heights in most zones to no more than 30 feet, with some preferring 25 or 28 feet. Yet no reference was made to these comments. Did councilors read them? Did they look at the petition with 80-plus signatures?

The elephant in the room was ignored. And in truth, it is a very big elephant. What about the city’s water problems? The aging water/sewer infrastructure? The importance of water availability and water pressure in fighting fires? Nobody wanted to go there, so they ignored it as a factor in their decisions.

Also, not much was said by councilors about preserving Port Orford’s coastal village character through good planning. In fact, they tiptoed around the idea of regulation as if it might bite. One even worried about people “losing their freedoms,” as if property rights (whatever that might mean) were sacrosanct. The people in mind, of course, are not local citizens, but speculators from outside the community. In the name of some nebulous “economic development,” any and all investment should be encouraged?

It is foolish to think change is not coming. But without wise planning, there will be no way to roll with it and still keep Port Orford the town we know and love. The place we chose for its beauty and liveability. The home that we choose to fight for, with value far beyond dollars and cents. Once big, expensive condos and hotels block the ocean views, McMansions loom over our neighborhoods, and commercial chains line Highway 101, there’s no going back. We’ve become another Lincoln City.

The talk around town was …

“I don’t feel like the community has been heard.”

“Council read the Ordinances? Why they might get a paper cut if they did that.”

“Everyone seemed to be so afflicted by the concept of ANY limits!”

“An incredible failure of their duty. They seemed to be acting on their own desires, not taking into account the many, many public comments.”

“Can we ask the Mayor to open this up for further discussion at the next meeting?”

“Can we do a recall? If Council isn’t listening to the citizens of Port Orford, they need to be replaced.”

“There are some significant decisions coming up that will be of equal impact to the town [as building heights], and I’m concerned.”

Resources

Here is a link to the council packet for the January 21 meeting, with comments from citizens starting on page 17. https://www.portorford.org/pdfs/2021/CP1-21-21.pdf

By the numbers, these are the new maximum height limits council mandated. Complete information will be forthcoming in the form of findings, to be prepared by the city planner and city attorney for approval at the February meeting.

1-R (residential) 30 feet, 2 stories (formerly 35)

2-R (residential, higher density) 30 feet, 2 stories (formerly 35)

4-C (commercial and residential) 45 feet (no change)

5-I  (industrial) 45 feet (formerly no limit)

6-CD (controlled development; natural resources) 30 feet (formerly no limit)

7-MA (marine activity) 45 feet (no change)

8-PF (public facilities, parks) no limit (no change)

9-SO (shoreland overlay) 30 feet (formerly no limit)

10-MU (Battle Rock mixed use) 35 feet (formerly 45)

The Municipal Code can be found at http://qcode.us/codes/portorford

Interactive zoning map

Building Heights: Here’s the Deep Dive

Early this month, Kevin McHugh resigned as the chair of the Port Orford Planning Commission for health reasons. It was an appointment he’d held for some years, shepherding the commission through a wide variety of tasks, from revising the Municipal Code to reviewing permit applications from citizens. The final, and perhaps most consequential for Port Orford, was the commission’s consideration of building height for new construction.

Below is McHugh’s personal testimony on that subject, submitted for the public hearing record.

Highlights from the letter include these statements:

  • In August, the City Council moved aggressively to preserve the small town ambience enjoyed by Port Orford residents.
  • The Planning Commission failed the Council by not adopting wording that satisfied Council’s instructions. This failure should not go without public comment.
  • Any claim that changing allowable building heights in all zones harms property values is unsupported by the facts. Building height has no direct effect on the value of developed OR undeveloped land in the city.
  • It is not in the best interest of the city of Port Orford for land to be held in speculation of greater profitability. This reduces the taxable base, pushes development into less desirable areas, and handicaps orderly growth.
  • Public safety is the most important consideration when setting allowable building height.