The Depoe Bay City Council has long said that they will do just about anything to help pump up their town’s economic fortunes. But proving they’re not desperate they voted NO on a large vehicle and RV storage project that was proposed to be built right off 101 and immediately behind some homes in the Little Whale Cove planned community.
The applicants said the storage area would be conveniently located for those living in Little Whale Cove but would also be operated as a full commercial RV and vehicle storage facility. It would cover a 2+ acre cleared area just a short ways south of Southpoint Street. The open land already has a gravel entry way.
Speaking for the developer, Portland attorney Eugene Grant said it’s true that the Depoe Bay City Planning Commission did vote unanimously to recommend to the city council they not approve the project in that location. And Grant added they were all wrong in their decision.
The planning commission found that the zoning of the parcel is R-4 – high density residential – suitable for condos and/or apartments, and of course, parking. The planning commission’s view of the vehicle and RV storage facility is that it’s not within the city’s zoning code based on the original zoning for the planned housing development now known a Little Whale Cove. And several home owners testified before the planning commission and later before the city council this week, that RV’s and regular vehicles contain a lot of volatile materials and even worse flammable liquids prone to exploding if not handled properly. All that, they said, makes a full commercial RV and vehicle storage facility inappropriate in that spot which abutts up against their homes just a few trees away.
Now the key to all this is that under the original plan, the proposed storage site was zoned, as mentioned above, for apartments and/or condos. To make it possible, under the law, to allow a commercial storage operation would require what’s called a conditional use permit, which comes with a bunch of restrictions to soften “the effects” of that kind of operation. Screening for noise and light pollution, safe storage and transfer of flammables, just for starters.
But in testimony before the planning commission and again before the council, neighbors said they don’t want the noise, the odors and the potential fire hazard that exists when up to 40 RVs full of gas, diesel, propane or other flammables, not only on board, but also being downloaded and uploaded, is just too big of a hazard. One neighbor brought up a report about a really nasty fire that erupted last June at an RV and general storage facility in Florence that damaged the buildings and valuable vehicles – $5 Million worth – was one estimate. Neighbors say such commercial operations with the possibility of even small fires doesn’t belong backed up to a housing area. They say they didn’t buy their homes in Little Whale Cove to live next to a light industrial operation.
But developer attorney Grant was undaunted. He claimed that his clients are fully within their right to be granted a conditional use permit for an RV storage facility and that if the council didn’t see it that way, they will appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals in Salem who, according to Grant, will roundly reverse the council’s denial. He asked the council to avoid a long out protracted legal contest that the city will most surely lose.
The council didn’t see it that way, claiming that the planning commission had thoroughly explored the land use laws, the original plans for the Little Whale Cove planned development along with the fact that the parcel near 101 south of Southpoint was zoned for high density apartments or condos. Not for a full blown commercial businesses that would otherwise have to be determined to be an incidental or subordinate use relative to the dominant land use for the whole housing planned development – housing. The planning commission determined the storage project is neither an incidental or subordinate use thereby allowing a zone change because it would have nothing to do with housing and would be a single use, full commercial, 24 hour, 7 day a week operation.
In addition, City Councilor Joe Fisher-Brown contended that Depoe Bay has a terrible shortage of affordable housing like many Oregon cities. She said from a community-wide perspective, the existing zoning of the lot, which calls for high density housing, is what should go in there because Depoe Bay’s tourism industry requires workers who can afford to live close to work. And many of them can’t find anything affordable in town. Therefore they have long, expensive commutes to work.
The vote was 5 to 1 to deny the project, with councilor Jerome Grant its lone supporter.
The developer’s only option now is to appeal the council’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals in Salem. The appeal process means that the council must formalize its decision with all of it’s planning commission and city council findings and make them ready for consideration by LUBA. Once all the paper work is in from the city and from the developer’s attorney, and the case is presented, LUBA has 21 days to render a decision as to whether the city council was correct in the decision they made. If either side doesn’t agree with LUBA’s determination, the case could get kicked upstairs to the State Court of Appeals, and if one side is still not happy, it’s off to the State Supreme Court.