Clatsop County recently approved a gigantic mansion on forestland, surrounded by sprawling gardens, and nobody knew about it all. How could this possibly be, when our land use laws rigorously require constant public involvement?
Clatsop County, along with many other local jurisdictions, has lately been finding quiet ways to restrict public involvement in the planning process. It saves money and staff time to limit public involvement, even thought the first goal of Oregon’s land use laws is Citizen Involvement, with a goal of involving the public in all aspects of planning. Many counties and cities now have a category of development called Type I permits, which are theoretically for projects that meet all existing requirements.
For a Type I approval, Clatsop County requires no notice to anyone, including adjacent neighbors, provides no opportunity to testify and no appeal period. The entire process is completely outside of any public process whatsoever. Type I approvals can include the building of an entire house; neighbors can wake up one morning and find a house being constructed right next door, about which they knew nothing.
One might suspect that this hidden planning process, lacking all scrutiny, could easily be subject to abuse. Clatsop County has just proved the truth of that suspicion. In September the County quietly approved the Alkire mansion, on land zoned residential forestland just outside Cannon Beach. But this was no ordinary house. It is a palatial 9,000 square foot mansion surrounded by extensive landscaping that is to include garden terraces, viewing pavilion, croquet lawn, parterres (ornamental flower beds), potagers (kitchen gardens), terraced hedges, a chicken coop and greenhouse, not to mention a gatehouse and a “folly” garden ornament.
When queried, the planning director said the approval was entirely appropriate, as Clatsop County ordinances place no limits on the size of a project that can be approved in the Type I category! Though the project is adjacent to Cannon Beach, from which emergency services would have to come if needed, the city received no more notice than the public. Adequate fire safeguards for a building in the urban-wildland interface, including water, are a major concern, but county officials approved the plans without a murmur.
Clearly, Clatsop County, and the Department of Land Conservation and Development, need to reconsider the use of Type I approvals. The abuse has been there all along, but is now brazen and constant in Clatsop County, as well as other jurisdictions. Among other problems, Type I approvals in Clatsop County also get rubber-stamp approvals from other agencies, like Roads and Public Works, who take their cue from the lack of planning scrutiny.
ORCA is publicizing the Alkire mansion fiasco in the hopes that Clatsop County will reconsider and open this project to public testimony – and also to alert DLCD to a major reversal to the bedrock public involvement requirement in the land use laws. DLCD needs to clamp down on the proliferation of Type I approvals, and ensure local governments honor public involvement requirements more stringently than they now are doing.