Highlands tax lot

33.5-acre Cottages at Gearhart property.

A new firehouse and resiliency station on 30 acres on Highlands Lane just north of Gearhart will rely on a combination of planning and taxpayer support. Navigating a complex web of state and local land use codes to bring the property into the city’s urban growth boundary is the first hurdle.

“The city is evaluating planning and architectural proposals,” City Administrator Chad Sweet said last Friday. “Staff will approach the council about those costs in June. It’s possible that we will be ready for preliminary conversations with the Planning Commission.”

If the costs for the resiliency station, which is categorized as critical infrastructure, are reasonable and the location is suitable, city staff will make a recommendation to the City Council to proceed to a bond vote in the fall. “Ultimately it’s the citizens of Gearhart that will choose in November,” Sweet said.

The land exchange proposal comes as the city considers recommendation from a housing study delivered to the city earlier this year calling for increased workforce housing opportunities.

The building and land inventory analysis delivered to the City Council in March showed a need for 234 new housing units by 2038. The study indicates a need for more rental supply for lower and moderately priced rental units.

The lack of a city sewer system “more than anything affects our maximum density despite how much land we have,” City Planner Carole Connell said at last Thursday’s meeting of the Planning Commission. “Our septic will continue to constrain us.”

The housing study pointed to “a number of things” the city could do to meet future needs, including a new high-density residential zone, duplexes and accessory dwelling units, Connell said.

“We really need to stay ahead of the curve because Gearhart has been notorious for falling behind the curve,” Planning Commissioner Terry Graff said. “And I’m not sure that I’m the only one who makes this a priority.”

Cottages at Gearhart LLC hopes to exchange two lots outside Gearhart’s urban growth boundary with the city for use as a park and a new firehouse and resiliency station. Approval for the process must first pass muster with the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, which oversees the administrative process. Once land is included in an urban growth boundary, it is eligible for annexation to the city.

Any land exchanged must be zoned at similar residential density use, City Attorney Peter Watts said. “Unfortunately, the Oregon Administrative Rules are set up for a zone-to-zone swap and don’t contemplate up-zoning.”

For now, the city is evaluating planning and architectural proposals to obtain property development and structure estimates and may be ready for preliminary conversations with the Planning Commission in June.

“We want to be prepared for anything,” Planning Commissioner Chairwoman Virginia Dideum said. “No matter who comes up with what, it’s going to be a process.”

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