Arch Cape residents fighting to retain oversight of key development decisions saw a victory last week at the state level.
For the second time, the Land Use Board of Appeals has sent the decision to dissolve the Arch Cape Review Design Committee back to Clatsop County, leaving county commissioners to either keep the committee in place or vote to dissolve it again.
The design committee makes recommendations on development within the unincorporated town south of Cannon Beach. Commissioners have deemed the group unnecessary, time-consuming, expensive and a potential legal liability, voting to dissolve it twice.
Supporters of the 34-year-old committee challenged the move, citing the state’s obligation to have citizen involvement in land use decisions as a primary reason.
Cameron La Follette, who helped represent the petitioners from Arch Cape through the Oregon Coast Alliance, said the county shouldn’t expect every community to collect input in the same way.
“If Arch Cape wants more opportunities to review, the county should honor that,” La Follette said. “In my experience, the more engaged a community is, the better. Land is an absolute — there’s only so much of it.”
County Manager Cameron Moore said the decision to remand the decision back to the county boiled down to a technicality. The county did not publish a separate, specific notice of a public hearing. Moore said he will take time to review the decision before taking a next step.
“This was simply an oversight on the part of county management,” Moore said in an email.
The Arch Cape committee is the last of its kind in Clatsop County. Supporters argue the county should honor the community’s decision to keep the committee active.
“The county has been looking for a way to get rid of our committee for some time,” Tod Lundy, who was chairman of the Arch Cape Design Review Committee, said in February 2016. “It’s a burden for them to come down to Arch Cape and review every sizable remodel and new building.”
One issue for the county is that the Arch Cape committee is quasi-judicial, requiring extra staff time to keep minutes and send notices for each meeting. County Commissioner Lianne Thompson said this week there is a way to have Arch Cape neighbors participate without a formal committee. She is recommending the town funnels development recommendations and reviews through a neighborhood association, which would allow for more voices to be heard rather than a few on a committee, she said.
“I believe in neighborhood livability. I am a neighbor,” Thompson said. “Accountability can be used as a tool or a weapon, and there is too much judicial power given to too few people.”
Thompson also said she thinks the town is more divided on the issue than the Oregon Coast Alliance asserts. She said she’s had residents tell her they are scared to express their opinions if they differ with the committee’s view.
“It’s gone from being used as a tool to becoming a weapon,” Thompson said. “It’s focused on how much power the committee has rather than other’s well-being. It’s become members banging on someone’s door telling them to trim their tree.”
La Follette said issues can be resolved through a cooperative process rather than complete dissolution, and said the committee needs to be heard.
“There is a difference between having a hearing and being listened to,” she said. “Land use politics is messy. Everyone wants to do different things with their land. The county needs to allow for that complexity.”