Oregon Coast Alliance Newsletter
A Victory and an Unfortunate Approval
Cannon Beach Makes It Final: No More Foredune Grading for Views!

The Dunes of North Cannon Beach. Photo Courtesy of ORCA
Cannon Beach City Council finalized its historic vote in March: grading the foredunes for view maintenance is  now  officially banned. The city passed a new ordinance to clarify dune activities. Maintenance and remedial grading are both allowed, and specifically defined. But view grading is no longer permitted. If the  foredunes  build up so that beachfront owners do not have a view of the ocean, that is Nature's way, shifting currents and  sands  in the littoral cell.  Oceanfront residents  will do as visitors and other residents do to see the beach and ocean: walk there. It is important to remember that the dunes in question are publicly-owned, managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, not people's private property. The dunes belong to all Oregonians. This fact occasionally gets lost in the rhetoric.

Cannon Beach decided to experiment with view-grading for dunes in the late 1990s at the request of Breakers Point Homeowners Association, a condominium complex  built at  the north edge of Ecola Creek. Breakers Point wrote the required sand management plan, which was adopted into the city's comprehensive plan. But over the years dune-grading  requests for views multiplied and expanded, involving also the condos on the Presidential Streets, and even Chapman Point. When residents of Chapman Point tried to get permission to grade the public dunes outside their houses, the city and concerned residents reminded them that there is a deed restriction that says bluntly, "Foredune grading for view enhancement shall be prohibited."

It became clear to city officials over the years that dune-grading for view was a highly contentious, never-ending cycle of expanding requests, public opposition, drawn out public hearings, appeals, litigation threats and backlash against graded areas, which marred Cannon Beach's celebrated coastal beauty. As climate change began to take its toll, it also became clear the dunes were essential in protecting the city from storm surges and king tides - especially when they came in combination.

The city paid for the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to conduct a new and comprehensive study of sand movement in the littoral cell. Then officials began hearings on whether or not to end view grading after a 22-year experiment with it. And, exercising leadership and foresight, Cannon Beach City council - after extensive public process, which garnered passionate local involvement - voted unanimously to end view grading. Oregon Coast Alliance salutes the City Council, which had the courage to exercise political leadership, instead of bowing to the private desires of a few.
Wheeler City Council Approves Ulbricht Development

Wheeler Waterfront. Courtesy City of Wheeler
The City of Wheeler decided to go ahead with their scheduled April 21st hearing on the Ulbricht appeals, despite the public health restrictions. The opportunities to participate in the hearing via technological avenues were considered unsatisfactory by residents, but that did not deter Council.

Unsurprisingly, the City Council approved both the commercial building and the "boutique" hotel. It was a curious move, since both buildings violate the Vision Plan, which lays out the kinds of development Wheeler wants in its future to protect its small-town identity. Also, the applications approved by City Council cannot be completed without approval of the Design Review applications, both of which are languishing at the planning commission, having as of yet had no hearings at all. The primary purpose of the commercial building, as labeled on the  application plans,  was for fish processing. ORCA supports local, environmentally-sound industries  such as fish procesing  that help coastal economies thrive; but  the buildings  and other infrastructure must be appropriate to the locale and meet all the criteria of the land use laws.  This project does not.

Numerous lapses in the public process have occurred during the hearings. Some are attributable to Wheeler's tiny size and unavoidably small staff; but it has been clear from the outset that at least some officials, the Mayor included, had decided to push strongly for approval of this project.  ORCA will continue to participate in the hearings and decisions yet to come on this development proposal.
The Problem of Public Scrutiny in a Time of Restrictions

South Coast Sunset. Courtesy ORCA
ORCA would like to extend our thanks to the volunteers we work with, especially in this extraordinary time. We have lately noticed a disturbing trend for some local government officials to take advantage of the somewhat muddled and disorganized public processes currently in place as public health restrictions continue. Controversial projects can be approved or rushed through with minimal public scrutiny when only electronic meetings are available, rather than face-to-face hearings. It is thanks to volunteers with sharp eyes in their communities that  these efforts do not win the day. 

If you suspect that unscrupulous developers or local officials are seeking to manipulate or avoid public processes for land use projects on the coast at this time, please contact ORCA.
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