New sites for City Hall all bring challenges

One proposed layout for a new City Hall building at the South Wind site.

Where will a new City Hall be built and what will it look like?

The conversation continued at a Feb. 13 City Council work session as City Manager Bruce St. Denis and Mayor Sam Steidel compiled a list of pros and cons for the potential City Hall and emergency services locations.

“Our ability to respond is slower if we don’t have a place to work,” St. Denis said.

The issues surrounding the placement of public buildings on the coast are complex. The current site of the Cannon Beach City Hall doesn’t meet required setbacks and is also partially located on property not owned by the city.

But all of the potential sites for relocation are equally problematic facing either risk of landslides or tsunami inundation.

And they’re all very expensive.

St. Denis made it clear that the need to replace the City Hall and police department didn’t stem from staff desire to work in a safer or nicer building, stating instead that it’s “about the people we serve.”

Steidel said that a prominent City Hall isn’t part of the “Cannon Beach aesthetic” and suggested that there were positive aspects to being in a “funky old building that’s tucked away.” Rebuilding the City Hall at its current location would likely require a more prominent face on Hemlock street.

St. Denis said he believes that the current site could “probably” house the police department and separating it from City Hall “isn’t a deal-breaker.”

But most council members agreed that the benefits of housing the two in one location outweigh the cons.

Councilor Mike Benefield created a ranked list of the sites weighted to account for cost, design, accessibility, among other metrics. Using his system he concluded that a two-story building on Hemlock was the best choice of the available options.

Robin Risley said she was cautious and suggested that siting any public services in the tsunami zone, even the large or extra-large zone, is concerning, suggesting that, “we should cut our losses,” and construct on higher ground.

Council members agreed that any one-story option in a tsunami zone is “off the table,” as is the South Wind site without the utilities.

New options were also considered. St. Denis suggested that a local hotelier might financially support the construction of a community center on the current City Hall site, defraying the costs of building a smaller office space elsewhere.

The council also considered portable units, the cell phone tower sites and “hardening” the existing building.

Public comment was brief but resident Doug Wood said that the ramifications of any major tsunami or earthquake event would likely shut down the entire region, and that many people will leave permanently, “I don’t think we’re realistic about our expectations.”

Wood suggested bringing in an expert from the region most impacted by the Japanese tsunami of 2011 and getting guidance from them.

The council agreed to use Benefield’s ranking matrix and come back to the next work session, Wednesday, March 6, prepared to resume the discussion.

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