City factors tsunami threat into boundary expansion

Map of Southeast Hills in Seaside indicating tsunami risk.

Tsunami preparedness, public transportation, affordable housing and environmental protection are just some of the competing concerns the city of Seaside is taking into consideration during the process of expanding its Urban Growth Boundary.

The Planning Commission heard a second round of public testimony Tuesday, Aug. 4, on its proposal to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan and pull approximately 200 acres of new land, located to the south and east of Seaside near Wahanna Road known as Southeast Hills, into the Urban Growth Boundary.

City officials and consultants favor Southeast Hills as the most suitable for development site over the next 20 years because of slope conditions, emergency vehicle access and infrastructure, among other factors.

While a Seaside School District 10 campus is not planned for the site, at earlier meetings commission members said a potential new school campus could be readily accessible to Southeast Hills.

Of the proposed 200.8 acres of Southeast Hills, the city is proposing to designate 61.3 acres as residential low density; 54.5 acres as residential medium density; 33.5 acres as residential high density; 5.3 acres as resort residential; 16.1 acres as industrial; 19.5 acres as institutional; and 10.6 acres as park.

“We’re not proposing or suggesting that any property owner has to change their current use,” Commission Chair Ray Romine said. “All we’re doing is making a proposed Urban Growth Boundary expansion for some future development to occur. That doesn’t mean that it will, it just means that it can.”

The city is working with consultants from HLB Otak, Inc. The local engineering and consulting firm was hired for the city by Weyerhaeuser, which owns much of the land under consideration.

During the meeting, the commissioners brought up concerns over how future tsunami events of various sizes might impact the Southeast Hills area and how to factor that into urbanization decisions.

Don Hanson, a principal and director for HLB Otak, provided a map of the Southeast Hills area overlayed with a tsunami modeling graphic, developed by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. The map showed the probable impact on the area in case of five different tsunami event scenarios, labeled as “T-shirt sizes,” or S, M, L, XL and XXL.

“We went through the acreage by zone, by proposed land use in the area and provided a summary so you could see which land uses end up in which T-shirt size tsunami event,” Hanson said.

The Southeast Hills provides relative safety in the case of a small- or medium-size seismic event. If a small tsunami occurred, only 3 percent of the land would be affected.

If an extremely large event occurred, all of the Southeast Hills industrial and parklands would be impacted. A large portion of residential land would be affected, including 80 percent of high density residential lands.

Because a large or medium event is considered “very probable” in the future, commission members focused on those scenarios. Under a large disaster scenario, 41 percent of both residential high-density and 41 percent of industrial land in Southeast Hills would be impacted, which concerned members of the commission.

The proposed expansion doesn’t get buildable lands completely out of the inundation zone, but it lessens their risk and in some cases takes future residents completely out of risk categories, Seaside Planning Director Kevin Cupples said.

Commissioners Tom Horning and Richard Ridout suggested it might be best to think ahead and start encouraging population growth further uphill through the Urban Growth Boundary expansion process.

The decision to put the area with a higher-density designation on the lower slopes, and subsequently more at-risk in case of tsunami events, is because the area would provide better access to the public transportation system or pedestrian pathways, which many residents rely on, Hanson said. “We’re always weighing one thing against another,” he said.

During the two public hearings on the topic, landowners in the Southeast Hills area voiced concerns about how the Urban Growth Boundary expansion could affect their neighborhood. They said they are worried about tax increases, overdevelopment, environmental impacts and higher traffic volume, especially Wahanna Road.

Other residents have stressed the need for more affordable housing to maintain seasonal and resort employees. Expanding the boundary means providing additional land that can be developed at urban-level densities, which could help with the city’s housing issue.

Planning Commission members said they are seeking input from the state on the zone changes.

Seaside resident Angela Fairless suggested the city also seek input from the North Coast Land Conservancy and Necanicum Watershed Council.

The public hearing was continued to the Planning Commission’s Sept. 1 meeting.

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