Council denies dune grading

Bruce Francis, property manager of the Breakers Point Homeowners Association, indicates where the first phase of the proposed dune grading at Breakers Point would have begun. In some places, the dunes reach higher than 40 feet.

The City Council, at its March 3 meeting, voted unanimously to deny the Breakers Point Homeowners Association’s request for a conditional use permit that would have allowed grading nearly 74,000 cubic yards of sand from the dunes.

If it had been approved, the grading would have occurred west and south of the condominium complex over the next few years. The council’s vote upheld the planning commission’s denial in January.

The council also decided that the current sand management plan — which several dune grading opponents argued is outdated and not designed with a project of this magnitude in mind — still holds. However, the council has made updating the plan one of its goals for 2015.

Windblown sand, trapped in the European dune grass along the beach in front of the complex, has caused the dunes to grow as high at 40 feet in some areas, according to Tom Horning, a local geologist working with the homeowners association. The dunes have begun to block the oceanfront views of some condo owners and cause stray sand to encroach on decks and patios.

“The dunes grow back rather quickly,” said Horning, who estimated they could rise 15 feet in five to 10 years.

The dune grading project, which would reduce the dunes from the current 40 feet to about 31 feet, is meant to restore the residents’ views and stave off sand inundation while returning some sand to the beach’s sedimentation system.

As originally proposed, the project included dumping about 7,000 cubic yards of graded sand into the Ecola Creek estuary to shore up the embankment beneath a condo’s foundation where erosion is occurring, according to Bruce Francis, property manager for Breakers Point.

However, between the planning commission’s December and January meetings, the homeowners association revised its proposal in response to criticism from the commission and the public.

Francis said that Breakers Point would be willing to avoid putting any sand in the estuary; to deposit the graded sand above the high-tide line rather than along the shoreline to avoid smothering razor clams; and to spread out the dune grading so that 15,000 cubic yards would be graded every six months, beginning this spring, through 2017. Meanwhile, the homeowners association would provide the city with ongoing environmental monitoring reports.

Because the planning commission decided that Francis had essentially introduced a new plan, it voted down the dune-grading request 4-2. Planning Commission members Charles Bennett, Joe Bernt, Hank Johnson and Lisa Kerr voted to deny the request, and members Ryan Dewey and Chairman Bob Lundy voted to approve it. Member Janet Patrick, a Breakers Point homeowner, recused herself.

At the City Council meeting in March, several local residents, who said they value the dunes, spoke out against the unprecedented size of the project, which is substantially larger than anything undertaken before in the city.

“This is an issue of reasonableness,” Clay Newton, a Cannon Beach homeowner told the council. “This project is much more sand than has ever been proposed to be graded in Cannon Beach.”

He pointed out — as did residents north Cannon Beach residents Lisa Fraser, Jeff Harrison and Jan Siebert-Wahrmund — that Breakers Point was supposed to submit monitoring reports for each of its eight dune grading projects since 2000, but most of those reports didn’t occur.

Resident Susan Glarum said that an impact assessment on the effects of dune grading should be done before the council decides whether to approve the Breakers Point proposal. She added, “Let’s just admit that building those condos on the foredunes, on the estuary, was a bad idea in the first place and never should have been allowed.”

Carol Bennett, a homeowner on the north side, reminded the council that many families and tourists come to Cannon Beach for its natural environment. “I think the dunes are for everyone and should not be destroyed the way (Breakers Point is) talking about it,” she said.

“Is it really worth the views of a few for this monstrous project?” asked Fraser.

On the proponents’ side, however, was former Cannon Beach Mayor Mike Morgan, working as a consultant for Breakers Point. He said that former Cannon Beach City Planner Rainmar Bartl arrived at an “Aha!” moment in the late 1990s, when Bartl realized that the dunes are “not a natural environment.”

“They are a big pile of sand covered with a horrible invasive species,” Morgan said. “The dunes always grow back. It’s like snow falling on the East Coast: It has to be deal with.”

The council ultimately decided to ignore Breakers Point’s revised proposal, vote against the original proposal and advise the homeowners association to start over at the planning commission.

In addition to his misgivings about the size of the proposal, Councilor Mike Benefield expressed concern about what the graded area would look like after the project was finished. Based on the Breakers Point’s application, he said it looks as though the homeowners association plans to scrape the sand down “table-top flat” at 31 feet, which he called “totally unacceptable.”

Horning said that the finished product “isn’t going to look like a football field out there. It’ll be undulated. We’ll be putting a few small dune structures in and replanting, so it’ll have a natural configuration.”

Benefield said Breakers Point’s intention to give the graded sand a natural appearance should be reflected in future dune-grading applications.

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