Clatsop County Proposed Housing Changes of 2024: Explanation and Critique

Waves and Trees, Clatsop County

Clatsop County is jumping the gun and proposing substantial amendments to its housing ordinances as of January 2024. Here are the proposed changes (also see the county Powerpoint below), and then a discussion of why these are jumping the gun. Note at the outset that none of these changes are mandated by state law.

The proposed county changes to the housing ordinances aim to do some valuable things, such as allow employee housing, multifamily housing, manufactured home parks and boarding houses in commercial zones. They also propose to allow existing houses in commercial areas to be considered permitted uses, rather than having them be nonconforming. Also, the county is proposing to lower application fees in several instances.

But many of the proposed changes are very distressing. Most especially, the county proposes to further restrict public participation in local land use decisions by classifying yet more applications as Type I proposals. Type I applications have no public notice, no public comment opportunity, and no appeal. This flies in the face of the first goal of the land use laws, Goal One, which stresses the importance of citizen participation in land use decisions.

The county would make duplexes Type I where they are allowed as conditional uses, eliminating public discussion about the change in the neighborhood and infrastructure capacity. What about triplex and quadraplex dwellings? The county is proposing to allow them “in areas designated for development in the comprehensive plan” that have water/sewer— but does not specify if they would be Type I applications. This would apply to several unincorporated communities, including Arch Cape.

The county also proposes to allow multifamily dwellings, mobile home parks and group housing as Type I developments where they are already allowed conditionally. That is to say: a person living in an unincorporated community that allows mobile home parks could suddenly find a large development going in next door, without his having received any notice or having any chance to comment.

The county has for several years now been on a drive to “create uniformity across zones” and eliminate local features in the zoning code. In this round, the county is once again targeting Arch Cape, which requires road extensions to be a conditional use process with full public involvement. The county would like to eliminate that requirement, without recognizing the reason for it: the community is subject to several old plats done with a ruler on a map, running roads into wetlands and up mountainsides without regard to topography. “Roads to nowhere” are a serious problem in Arch Cape.

The planning department is also proposing to lower the minimum lot size for single family residences from 7,500 square feet to 5,000, and for duplexes from 15,000 to 10,000 square feet. This will have major repercussions for community livability, vegetation management and (especially) water/sewer capacity in small, underfunded special districts that often serve unincorporated communities. It will also have consequences for stormwater management, which is rudimentary in most communities, despite the coast being the wettest part of the state. Stormwater planning in Clatsop County is, in general, not very advanced.

One of the biggest problems with all these changes: the county is studiously refusing to take account of short term rentals (STRs). Since the county allowed STRs in all residential zones, the numbers have burgeoned countywide, yet the Board of Commissioners has failed to have other than a single perfunctory conversation — without taking any action — about restricting or capping their numbers. But no housing solution can work if STRs are not restricted; most new houses built would simply become new STRs, as that is where the market is strongest.

The Board of Commissioners is also jumping the gun: proposing substantive changes not mandated by the state under House Bill 3197, passed in the 2023 Legislature. Nor is the county waiting to see what guidance, or administrative rules, the state may issue to implement the new law. HB 3197 requires “clear and objective standards” for housing, which applies not only to UGB lands, but “unincorporated communities designated in a county’s acknowledged comprehensive plan after Dec. 5, 1994.” The county is peeling this set of requirements off from the proposed housing ordinance changes, having referred the HB 3197 questions to its planning commission, as if the new state law were irrelevant to housing ordinance changes.

All in all, ORCA cautions Clatsop County to pull back on the proposed changes to the housing ordinances, both to see what the state might issue to implement HB 3197, and to integrate STR regulation into the housing picture.The Board of Commissioners’ current thrust, to continually restrict citizen participation in more and more land use decisions, is becoming a serious problem. ORCA urges the county to stop trying to save money on the back of community livability, and the effort of rural communities to have a voice in their future.


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