Pacific City and the Struggle for the Community’s Future

Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area Near Pacific City. Courtesy Matvyei (Wikimedia)

Pacific City is a small unincorporated community in Tillamook County, tucked in by the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. The community’s future is at stake now, as planning upgrades take place in 2018. The community must decide about its future character: does it want to grow much, a little, or hardly at all? That will impact other decisions, such as sewer and water availability.

Tillamook County is currently working with the community to upgrade its Community Plan and County ordinances. After literally about ten years of community meetings, hearings on the proposed Plan changes are set to being in February 2018. The original Pacific City/Woods Community Plan was adopted in 1999, so an update after eighteen years is certainly overdue. The community faces major choices about its future. A January 2013 lands inventory revealed that as of 2011 there were 482 vacant residential lots. If all lots were developed in the next ten years, it would create a massive 38% growth — and that does not even include the potential to subdivide nearly half of those lots, further fueling the potential growth rate. All told, the maximum number of buildable lots, including those that can be subdivided, is 803 lots, which could lead to a maximum of 63% growth rate in residential development over a ten year period.

This is obviously extremely high, and would lead to a disaster in infrastructure ranging from parking spaces to road maintenance and water and sewer capacity. On the other hand, Pacific City is highly vulnerable to recessions, as about 60% of the homes in Pacific City are second homes, and people’s ability to maintain second homes fluctuates with economic prosperity. The community has been grappling with its current growth rate, initiating a parking management plan and shuttle service pilot project. The county also widened the Cape Kiwanda beach access ramp and added a pedestrian sidewalk. Cape Kiawanda Community Center has recently been expanded.

Expanding Pacific City’s opportunities for high-end development without providing adequate infrastructure is a recipe for disaster. The proposed ordinance changes for the zoning code, for example, are set to allow multifamily dwellings of up to 6-8 units with a maximum building height of 45 feet; some multifamily residential structures would be allowed to reach 50 feet in height.

Pacific City residents want the community to maintain its rural coastal atmosphere, growing from its tradition of being a fishing and summer home area. That vision, plus the very real limits on infrastructure, need to shape Pacific City’s future — not merely the dreams of developers to build ever more housing and commercial areas in this very small rural community. Pacific City gets sewer and water service from a local special district, in this case the Pacific City Joint Water-Sanitary Authority (PCJWSA). The wastewater treatment plant’s sewer outfall empties into the Nestucca River. Built in the 1970s, the plant has reached the limit of its usefulness, and needs an upgrade to avoid further fines and enforcement actions from the Department of Environmental Quality for effluent violations. There was a violation in 2013 and another in 2015, and more could easily follow. PCJWSA has a long history of frequent DEQ violations and citations stretching back twenty years.

The question is, how big should the upgrade be? The District wants to upgrade their plant to provide sewer service to all possible houses that might be built in the future — they are planning for maximum buildout. PCJWSA received approval for a grant/loan package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development consisting of an $8.7 million loan, and a $1.9 million grant. Who pays for such an enormous loan? The existing residents and visitors, through massive rate hikes. But an effort by the District to pass a property tax levy failed, voted down by outraged residents.

ORCA continues to work with concerned local residents to help shape the community’s future to one that is livable and possible to create without rupturing the existing infrastructure on which all residents depend. That includes PCJWSA, whose history of violations and poor management is legendary.

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