Manzanita Lofts: Many Commercial Dwellings Among Houses

View of Manzanita from Neahkahnie Mountain. Amateria1121/Wikipedia photo

In January 2022 the city of Manzanita received an extraordinary document: a three-page application for a major development, to be called Manzanita Lofts, on 3.8 acres at Dorcas and Classic Streets in the middle of a residential area. The proposal outlined a planned unit development consisting of nineteen studio rooms, nine cabins, and six “micro-cabins.” The studio units would be stacked in a two-story building, but the cabins would be separate.

Usually an application for a development as large as this would be extensive, with consultants’ reports on wetlands, geological hazards and other characteristics of the site, along with a traffic study, stormwater plan and similar reports; but the developer provided none. As hearings began, an additional problem reared its head: though the zoning allowed for hotels and motels as an outright use on the site, the Manzanita code had no definition of either “hotel” or “motel” – a very large loophole that would allow the developer to build almost anything without any standards at all.

Both the city planner and the developer upheld the idea that city officials only needed to grant the conditional use permit, and all the “technical details” such as wetlands and geohazard issues, plus detailed consideration of standards for parking and density, as the proposed buildings met the city definition of a “dwelling,” could be dealt with later, at the building permit level.

But the state’s land use laws do not allow this, and nor do the Manzanita ordinances. The developer is required to provide information on major site issues upfront, during the discretionary decision-making of the conditional use process, where the public can participate, and where an appeal can occur. The developer also has the burden of proof to show that the development conforms to the city’s comprehensive plan, that streets are adequate to the development, that stormwater management could be adequately controlled, that there would be no traffic impacts, and a host of other issues. The developer provided information on none of these, and the city planner wrongly indicated it was not necessary.

Residents and concerned citizens of the town organized, and presented crisp and thorough testimony about the many problems. Manzanita’s planning commission, realizing that the Manzanita Lofts application was seriously deficient in every particular, denied the permit on a unanimous vote. The developer appealed to City Council. The parties repeated their arguments in ever-greater detail, making it clear that Manzanita ordinances simply do not allow a developer to get a free pass with a conditional use permit when essentially no information has been provided. The developer had not met his burden of proof. City Council likewise denied the permit unanimously, in July 2022.

The developer appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). At Manzanita’s request, Oregon Coast Alliance defended the city before LUBA. In February 2023 the court remanded the Manzanita decision back to the city for more work, holding there had been insufficient legal findings to uphold the city decision. This proposed development in a residential area will require much more negotiation, discussion and citizen participation now that the court case has concluded. ORCA also hopes that Manzanita lawmakers amend the city ordinances to include workable definitions of “hotel” and “motel,” clearly a needed addition to the laws of a coastal town having several businesses of that type.


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