Florence Planning approves Oceana annexation

Commission sends annexation request on to Florence City Council

Dec. 11, 2020 — 

The Florence Planning Commission (PC) met Tuesday, Dec. 8, which was the first city meeting of the month as both a Dec. 7 Florence City Council work session and the regularly scheduled city council meeting planned for last Monday evening were rescheduled.

Interest surrounding this particular PC meeting was heightened as a decision on a contested annexation was one of two major action items on the meeting’s agenda.

Chairperson John Murphey called the meeting to order with all commissioners in attendance.

The agenda listed Resolution PC 20 22 and PC 2023 as the first two action items, which were the applications from Michael Farthing, on behalf of Benedick Holdings, LCC, to annex 48.82 acres along Oceana Drive, located east of Rhododendron Drive, within the Heceta South subdivision, and east and south of Sandrift Street, and also east of the eastern terminus of Cloudcroft Lane within the Idylewood subdivision.

Resolution PC 20 23 assigned a zoning classification to the annexed property.

One of the most significant elements in the materials presented to commissioners is the staff report “Findings of Fact,” which includes information providing more background — in this case, on city requirements as detailed in City Code.

Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell recapped the points of concern she had determined were most relevant and included them in meeting materials.

“State law requires signatures from at least 50 percent of the property owners and electors of the property to petition for annexation without an election,” FarleyCampbell explained. “This type of annexation is known as a ‘double majority’ annexation (ORS 222.125). The city received a signed petition from the property owner and will process the annexation under the ‘triple majority’ methodology (ORS 222.170(1)).”

Florence City Code Title 10 Chapter 1 calls for processing the annexation as a Type IV application, with the zoning assignment procedure applying to the property and Oceana Dr.

“In accordance with 10-1-1-5 B, the two actions will be processed through consolidated proceedings,” said FarleyCampbell.

After annexation, the property will be provided city services, such as sewer and police protection. The property is within the Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and Western Lane Ambulance districts and will continue to be served by all districts presently providing public services.

A number of Idylewood residents are opposed to the annexation and have filed testimony to that effect with the city and the PC.

“We are writing to express our strong opposition to the annexation and zone change by Benedick Holdings. … The proposed rezoning will affect Oceana Drive and Rhododendron Drive,” said Jimmie and Christine Seitsinger in a letter to the PC, which was similar to many others submitted to the commission. “The zone change will significantly impact our neighborhood and community and be detrimental to the area. We are opposed to the rezoning and annexation since it will cause traffic and safety problems, drainage concerns due to grading, destroy the local wildlife habitat and potentially lower the existing community’s property values.”

Other issues which trouble residents of Idylewood are based on human impact on the surrounding native vegetation and wildlife.

“In addition, clearing of the native vegetation and disruption of the natural wetland environment on the proposed acreage for development will likely exacerbate drainage problems and flooding that already occurs in Idylewood,” another letter stated. “This subject property is also a prime wildlife habitat, and any development here will have harmful environmental effects which cannot be undone.”

Quality of life was also mentioned by many as the overriding concern with the annexation, as was the concern that the annexation wasn’t the result of a request by residents — but rather by an out-of-area developer stymied by the county.

“We moved here and were mesmerized by the quiet, the trees and all the wildlife. We take walks around Heceta South at least three times a day. We walk with our dogs, we take power walks for exercise, and we walk with our friends and neighbors for some peaceful conversation,” resident Kathy Johnson said in a letter to the commission. “It is a safe place to walk since there is no traffic. On every walk we encounter wildlife. Chipmunks chasing each other, rabbits and squirrels darting across the road, and words cannot describe the special feeling when you round a corner and see a bobcat sauntering down Kelsie way! Or a coyote loping along. Even our resident bear has made appearances as he lumbers off into the woods. … If the annexation and development are allowed to go through, and Kelsie Way is annexed as well to provide through traffic to Heceta Beach Road, what is the amount of noise and all the trash that will be generated? And people scoping out our homes for potential theft and crime? All of this peace, beauty, quiet, safety and our beloved wildlife will be gone — FOREVER. Please do not let this happen!”

Some of the letters to the PC were more critical of the less than transparent manner in which the annexation was requested and has worked its way through the annexation process.

“The residents of Oceana Drive and neighboring affected properties are not the ones requesting annexation by the city for the benefit of city services. This is an attempt to impose this on them,” wrote Nancy Patterson. “Many are retired residents who chose this neighborhood because of its rural environment. They also likely have limited income and may not be prepared for the increased taxes and fees that I understand will come with annexation. I imagine that in some cases this may result in needing to give up their residences and relocate if remaining there becomes financially untenable.”

The restrictions currently in place for COVID-19 mitigation were an additional cause for complaints from residents as was the online-based public hearing held in November.

“The virtual PC meeting on 11/10 was a disgrace,” wrote Linda Bickel. “The requirements to challenge the proposal were Mephistophelian. It should not be so difficult for a citizen to take leaders to task that an attorney must be engaged. Audio was terrible and neither the applicant’s attorney nor members of the public were able to comment. What is the rush here?”

Bickel also commented that many of those who will be impacted by the PCs decision are not technically savvy and that many others might not have the ability to submit a letter that adheres to the template of submittal requirements.

“We want to be there, look you in the eyes and hear you clearly as you discuss and make plans for us — plans that will affect us in many ways, not the least of which is financially,” Bickel wrote. “What really is at stake here is quality of life.”

Public Works Director Mike Miller has been heavily involved in collating the reports and information needed to determine both the legitimacy of the requested annexation, but also determining the physical state of the water systems and other infrastructures.

Two issues, stormwater and excess water drainage, surfaced in many of the comments submitted in opposition to the resolution.

Miller addressed those in his presentation, which stated in part, “The proposed streets within the Idylewood 4th Addition are proposed to be city streets and will need to meet city standards for construction. Oceana Drive is currently classified as an urban local road which is maintained by Lane County. Since it is an urban local roadway, Oceana would not automatically transfer to the city upon annexation. The city will need to evaluate whether or not the street is in an acceptable condition, including stormwater management, to transfer maintenance (jurisdictional transfer) of the roadway to the city.”

FarleyCampbell also recapped the process navigated by the applicant and the corresponding actions taken to research and assess the application undertaken by City of Florence staff and affirmed her departments recommendation to approve the Resolutions presented.

“The evidence in the record demonstrates that the proposed annexation and zone assignment is consistent with the policies set forth in state statues and administrative rules, Florence City Code and the Florence Realization 2020 Comprehensive Plan, based on the findings,” FarleyCampbell said. “Staff recommends that PC recommend approval of the annexation and zoning assignment to the Florence City Council.

The passage of the approval for annexation was met with a pledge by residents of Idylewood to continue to resist the annexation as they prepare for a future meeting of the city council, which could mean the finalization of the annexation.

“I fully expect that the city council will approve the Benedick’s petition, because they will argue (as did the PC) that this is ‘only’ about annexation and rezoning, it is not about development,” wrote Bruce Hadley in a letter to the Idylewood Homeowners Association. “Mayor Joe Henry has already made public his intention to annex all of Idylewood and, for that matter, everything within the Urban Growth Boundary. Unfortunately, once Oceana Drive is annexed, it can never be ‘de-annexed’ — which is why we want to head this off before it even gets to the development application.”

Hadley predicted that if the annexation is approved, Saltaire, Sandrift and other locations in the area would be “up for grabs” to developers.

“In the meantime, I am going to try to hire some experts to provide analysis and testimony re: infrastructure, especially roads and stormwater prior to that meeting. The point of getting expert testimony into the public record is to have something that we can use when we appeal the council’s (likely) decision. I.e., we can argue that the city council erred, because they ignored this expert testimony,” wrote Hadley.

There were some conditions attached to the recommendation to approve the annexation, which is common in projects of this level of complexity. The motion to approve the annexation — with conditions set by the City — was made by Commissioner Brian Jagoe and passed unanimously.

The second major decision was centered around the construction of a Burger King restaurant on the corners of 35th Street and Highway 101.

The PC was updated on the progress of the project and Resolution PC 20 26 was presented with the hope that the PC would allow the construction of the franchised burger chain to continue. City staff responded with the following comments in their review.

“Staff recommends a finding that the proposal can meet the requirements of city code and the Florence Comprehensive Plan once the conditions of approval laid out in the draft resolution are enacted. The PC can amend the proposed findings of fact, resolution, and conditions of approval as it sees fit. Staff would like to highlight several aspects of the findings for the commission’s attention.”

The applicant’s representative, Charlie Patton, was on hand virtually for the meeting and was willing to accept the few brief comments made by staff and the commissioners during the presentation. The resolution has an extensive list of items which must be addressed during the design and building process, but the majority of those should be easily accomplished.

Patton was clear the developers would do what they were required to do to continue building.

The discussion among commissioners after the presentation was brief and Resolution PC 20 26 passed unanimously.

All Planning Commission meetings are available for viewing online and all submitted materials are included in each meeting informational packets, available on the City Planning Commission website at www.ci.florence.or.us/bc-pc.