"To protect the Oregon coast by working with coastal residents for sustainable communities; protection and restoration of coastal and marine natural resources; providing education and advocacy on land use development; and adaptation to climate change."

Oregon Coast Alliance is the coastal affiliate of 1000 Friends of Oregon

Oregon Coast Alliance Newsletter

Spotlight on Clatsop County

Voluntary Changes to Clatsop Land Use Code to Increase Housing Availability

Clear and Objective Standards for Housing Development

The Problem of Short Term Rentals

Clatsop County Comprehensive Plan Coastal Goals Update

Property Management Policy Update: Comments due May 5th

Clatsop Waves and Trees. Courtesy ORCA

In this newsletter, Oregon Coast Alliance focuses on Clatsop County’s current land use initiatives, bringing them all together in one place so they can be seen as a whole.

Clatsop County for the last several years has been engaged in an increasingly complex and aggressive effort to update, amend and reformulate both its land use ordinances and Comprehensive Plan, alongside considering new legislative possibilities, Short Term Rental Policies and a Property Management Policy.

Unfortunately, all the land use/housing tasks are being undertaken separately or semi-separately, leading to confusion by the public and lack of clear outcomes. These separate initiatives are making it very difficult, or even impossible, to get an overview of the changes, see where the new directions are taking the county, and whether they are good public policy or not.

Meantime, a large body of administrative decisions continues to be made with no public knowledge at all. For example, the county is likely to approve the Alkire mansion, a 9,000 square ft. dwelling with extensive landscaping including kitchen gardens, terraces, chicken coops and ornamental flowerbeds on 6.25 acres of forestland directly outside the Cannon Beach urban growth boundary. There was no discussion of fire risk or emergency services with Cannon Beach, the nearest town. The planning director notified ORCA that as a Type I decision, there was no public comment and no appeal. Another huge dwelling, the Schade 8,000 square foot mansion on 164 acres of forestland, is now in the Type I approval pipeline – again, no discussions about fire, water, sewer/septic and emergency services with the public or nearby Cannon Beach will take place. ORCA considers these approvals a misuse of the land use process to remove large projects (there are no acreage or size limits) from public scrutiny.

Voluntary Changes to Clatsop Land Use Code to Increase Housing Availability

Clatsop County is pushing ahead with proposed Ordinance 23-24 to implement sweeping (but largely unnoticed) changes in county ordinances to ease the permitting and building of housing. Many of these changes will have drastic effects on rural communities throughout the county.

The proposal in 23-24 is to “support housing development at all price points” – despite the fact that Clatsop County has more than enough high-income housing, and lacks housing at the affordable end. Several of the proposals are highly controversial.

Ordinance 23-24 would smooth the permitting path for affordable housing by allowing duplexes to be approved as a Type I process – meaning approvals would fall completely outside the public arena. Type I approvals have NO public notice, NO public comment and NO right of appeal. The Planning Director makes the decision, having already determined that the application meets all relevant requirements. Triplex and quadraplex housing would be allowed countywide in areas with community water/sewer. Multifamily housing and RV parks would be allowed as a Type I use (in residential zones were they are permitted) – again, with no public involvement at all in the decision-making.

Lot sizes are very important in community livability. The county’s proposal would shrink lot sizes for duplexes from 15,000 square feet to 10,000, and single-family house lot sizes from 7,500 to 5,000 – including in Arch Cape, which would place a vast burden on the community’s water and sewer infrastructure. The county also wants to eliminate use of a conditional use permit for roads, which is required in Arch Cape because of its old plats that drew roads on the landscape regardless of geological features.

The county had a presentation on these amendments in January, 2024. Further refinements are likely to be posted on the county website in May. For more detailed information, click here.

Clear and Objective Standards for Housing Development

The 2023 Legislature passed Bill 3197, which requires “clear and objective standards, conditions and procedures” for development of housing, including needed housing. This new law applies to lands inside urban growth boundaries, but also to unincorporated communities (such as Falcon Cove, Arch Cape, Westport, Miles Crossing, and all the others in Clatsop County). It also applies to nonresource lands and rural residentially-zoned lands. Objective standards must be in place by July 1, 2025.

What will be required? The new law allows density and height regulations – but only if they are clear and objective standards. No requirements may discourage needed housing through unreasonably cost or delay – whatever that might mean in practice. A local government nevertheless has full powers to establish approval procedures, including imposing special conditions.

Clatsop County is sending the ordinance changes required to meet this state mandate to the Clatsop County planning commission, which is meeting monthly to discuss needed code revisions. The next meeting is May 14, 2024. Please see here for detailed information.

The Problem of Short Term Rentals

A few years ago, Clatsop County realized that its informal policy of allowing Short Term Rentals (STRs) in residential zones was illegal, because STRs are a commercial, for-profit activity, even though the actual use is “residential,” occurring in temporary quarters. The county’s response was to make them legal, and passed Ordinance 22-05 in 2022 to allow STRs in all rural zones. A ballot referendum to rescind this drastic ordinance narrowly failed, and Ordinance 22-05 is now in effect.

Immediately upon its becoming the law of the county, many voices were raised requesting the county to implement some kind of limitation on the number of STRs countywide. Communities known for their ocean views have been particularly heavily impacted, such as Arch Cape and Falcon Cove, with 18% and 24% of their dwelling units respectively made up of STRs. County data shows nearly 75% of STRs are located west of Highway 101.

The county has steadfastly refused to consider STR limits in conjunction with the housing ordinance amendments – despite the clear and obvious fact that STRs impact housing availability. But the Board of Commissioners is slowly moving towards discussing caps or other limitations. At its most recent workshop in April the Board considered caps ranging from 1% of dwellings to 10%, but with an overall countywide cap of 175 STRs. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is approximately the number of STRs in the county currently, so this proposal would raise the least amount of political ire.

The county will not revisit the STR problem again until July 2024.

Clatsop County Comprehensive Plan Coastal Goals Update

Clatsop County has been updating its Comprehensive Plan for awhile now, since at least 2019, working through the various Goals relating to natural resources, farm, forest, infrastructure, riparian/wetlands, energy, housing and others. Now the process will begin on the Coastal Goals: Estuaries (Goal 16), Coastal Shorelands (Goal 17), and Beaches and Dunes (Goal 18). None of these have been substantively updated since they were adopted in 1980, and the inaccurate maps are based on 40+-year old data. The county has contracted with the Columbia River Estuary Task Force (CREST) to lead the process.


The Coastal Goals are particularly sensitive issues for coastal residents and visitors, as they deal with issues such as estuary zoning, the amount and kind of development allowed around estuaries and on the open shore, and shoreline armoring (including the highly controversial use of riprap) for buildings threatened by coastal erosion. In an era of climate change, rising sea levels, increased storm ferocity and storm wave heights, these are critical issues to discuss in coastal communities.

The County held an initial listening session on April 20th in Astoria. Further opportunities are not yet scheduled, but may be found at this link when available.

Property Management Policy Update: Comments due May 5th

Clatsop County owns many different kinds of property, from parks to tiny silvers returned to the county through tax foreclosure. The county adopted its current policy in 2012, and is now in the process of updating it. There has been recent controversy over use of some county land for affordable housing, given geographical constraints and lack of public involvement. Officials decided it would be a good time to review the twelve-year old policy.

The revised draft open for comment includes a new section under Types of Property: parcels suitable for low-income housing. Suitability is to be determined by a criteria-based analysis including environmental conditions, transportation access, sewer/water capacity. This will include environmental constraints such as wetlands, steep slopes, landslide vulnerability, and environmental contamination. None of these criteria were even mentioned in the 2012 version. 

For more information, please click here.

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