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Cities say no to designation sought by Port of St. Helens

Columbia City, St. Helens properties to be left out of 'regionally significant industrial lands' application


by: MARK MILLER - The City Council of Columbia City (from left, Mayor Cheryl Young, Council President Sally Ann Marson and Council Members Nell Harrison, Larry Preston and Josh Fromm) confers at a special meeting in the Columbia City Community Hall on Wednesday, June 4, to consider whether to support or deny the Port of St. Helens' request for the city's support in seeking 'regionally significant industrial lands' status for the Columbia City Industrial Park.Two south Columbia County city councils opted out Wednesday, June 4, from a state application by the Port of St. Helens to receive a “regionally significant” designation for industrial land across the port district, citing concerns about loss of local control and a tight timeframe for their decision.

The port had hoped Columbia City and St. Helens would adopt resolutions of support for the designation, which would have allowed them to include the Columbia City Industrial Park and the McNulty Industrial Park in their application. Representatives of the port said the expedited appeal and permitting processes for designated lands could help attract developers to moribund properties.

But members of both councils regarded some of the steps that would be removed from the process — such as the local planning commission not having a public hearing for a conditional use permit on regionally significant industrial land, the city council appointing a hearings officer to handle appeals instead of hearing them itself, and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals being cut out of the appeal process altogether — as vital to maintaining local and public oversight within their cities.

“This is about taking the city council and the local community out of the process,” said Columbia City Council Member Larry Preston accusingly, during one heated exchange with Port of St. Helens Executive Director Patrick Trapp at a City Council special meeting in the Columbia City Community Hall Wednesday evening.

“That public hearing process is important to each and every citizen, no matter what their opinion is,” St. Helens City Councilor Ginny Carlson said at a work session in St. Helens City Hall. “I’m just not willing to trade that public viewpoint. We pack this house and we’re here ‘til midnight, with every single person having their voice heard. And they value that. That’s what democracy is about. That’s what being involved in your community is about.”

by: MARK MILLER - Gary Shepherd, a Portland-based land use attorney contracted by the Port of St. Helens, speaks to a skeptical City Council at a meeting in the Columbia City Community Hall on Wednesday, June 4. Shepherd said it was up to the city, which ultimately voted to deny its support for the port to seek a special state status for its Columbia City Industrial Park, to decide whether it wanted industrial lands within its limits to be included in the port's application.St. Helens City Council President Doug Morten and Columbia City Mayor Cheryl Young said they were troubled by the short notice they were given to decide on the matter.

Oregon Senate Bill 766, which created the significant industrial lands program, was passed in 2011 with a built-in deadline of June 28, 2014, for applications.

The port only began publicly preparing an application for regionally significant status for its properties earlier this year. Its land use attorney, Gary Shepherd, said it had been waiting on the state to define clear rules for the application process before moving forward.

“Three years has passed, and we’re just now trying to get this under the wire,” Young complained.

Morten said he did not want to see his City Council rushed into making a bad call.

“The poorest decisions that we’ve made [have] been under haste and under a timeframe,” said Morten, adding, “I certainly wish that we had more time to work with this.”

Several members of the public spoke at the Columbia City meeting Wednesday — most of them Columbia City residents, and virtually all of them opposed to the port’s request.

“What we need is more public discussion,” said Columbia City resident Merle Pence, one of several speakers who called into question the port’s record on transparency. “We need more control, rather than less control.”

The City Council of Columbia City received boisterous applause after voting unanimously in favor of a motion by Preston to deny the port’s request. In St. Helens, Mayor Randy Peterson averted an official vote on the request by determining there was not sufficient support on the council to even place the port’s draft resolution on a regular meeting agenda for consideration.

Trapp said the port will respect the will of the Columbia City and St. Helens city councils and not include its industrial lands in those cities in its application.

The application is expected to include Port Westward, industrial lands adjacent to Port Westward, and possibly other industrial properties owned by private businesses elsewhere in the port district.

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