Highlands Lane location

Proposed location of a firehouse and police station on Highlands Lane.

Whatever the vote for a new firehouse in the Highlands, the city must bring 35 acres into the city’s urban growth boundary.

Approval for the process must first pass muster with the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, which oversees the administrative process, consultant Scott Fregonese told City Council at their November meeting. Once land is included in an urban growth boundary, it is eligible for annexation to the city.

The expansion will allow Cottages at Gearhart developers to build more residential lots than under Clatsop County’s zoning code. As terms of the agreement, two lots part of the parcel — a 2.14-acre lot for the fire station and 2.4-acre lot for park property — would be transferred to the city. In the event the city is unable to bring the property into the urban growth boundary within one year from the signing on Aug. 23, the agreement would terminate unless both parties agree to an extension.

To complete the deal, the city must exchange an equivalent, similar amount of property within the urban growth boundary. The swap must be “one-to-one” in terms of acreage exchanged, with equivalent zoning density, consultant Scott Fregonese said.

The city has more than 70 acres west of the state’s no-build line that are inside the city’s urban growth boundary and zoned residential, City Attorney Peter Watts said, giving the city “plenty of land” to work with.

Fregonese will work with the city to develop a report and findings that address the criteria of the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development. “That’s going to be important,” he said. We need to have the support of the state, the county as well as the city to actually move this thing forward. All of the statewide planning goals come into play when we’re doing a UGB swap like this.”

The urban growth boundary report will look at demands on public facilities, traffic estimates and site analysis, Fregonese said. “We can’t just say, ‘This is the site that we want to do the swap for.’ We have to look at potential for other sites, and then make arguments for why this site is the best for the swap.”

Fregonese said it would be “ambitious” to complete the urban growth boundary exchange by next spring because of the public notice and hearings that must take place. “Public notice is really important to make sure we follow all those rules and make sure that those are done properly,” Fregonese said.

Property designated for a proposed Gearhart firehouse and park.

After the report is available, public hearings with the Planning Commission, City Council and county Board of Commissioners would follow, which Fregonese recommended take place concurrently.

“That should save us months as we move forward through this with a goal of April having something that is brought to council that can be adopted as a comprehensive plan change and a UGB expansion,” he said. “I don’t want to make any promises but that’s the goal. We’re working toward it now.”

Right now, the plan is to proceed with the UGB exchange without waiting for the election.

City Administrator Chad Sweet said the city’s intention is to go to voters in May for a firehouse bond vote. “That is ultimately the council’s decision,” he said. “That is what the staff is heading toward with the help of these other folks.”

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