ARCH CAPE — A proposed RV park across the highway from Arcadia Beach south of Cannon Beach is facing criticism from environmental groups for encroaching on an endangered species — the marbled murrelet — and disregard for forestry practices.
A land-use compatibility statement was submitted earlier this year by James Smejkal, the owner of the 17.6-acre parcel of forested land, requesting temporary access from Highway 101 from the Oregon Department of Transportation to conduct surveys on the property.
Smejkal thinks the property would be well-suited for an RV park, mostly because it is one of the only types of development allowed with the land’s current zoning, he said.
“Because of the high volume of campers that visit the coast in the summer, I don’t think there will be a problem,” Smejkal said. “Planners designated it for park use because they saw it as a need.”
This early on in the project, significant details — such as a site plan and geohazard surveys — will need to be completed before any site development or road construction can begin, Clatsop County Planning Manager Will Caplinger said.
The land was owned by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department before it was traded to Smejkal in 2002 in exchange for land he owned in Columbia County. In 2009, Smejkal attempted to develop the property as housing, which was ultimately denied by the Clatsop County Planning Commission.
Cameron La Follette, director of the environmental advocacy group Oregon Coast Alliance, said urbanization — whether it be houses or RVs — is not the best use for the property.
La Follette argues the development lacks the infrastructure to support an urban project in a rural area, and that ultimately, the land should be back in public hands.
“Just because the parks system didn’t have plan for this plot didn’t mean it was valueless to the public,” La Follette said. “Put in a trail loop, install other interpretive uses. There are lots of things you can do there. But an RV park in this area is something we don’t feel comfortable with.”
Smejkal said he intends the project to be executed like another RV park he developed in Wallowa County, which he described as “upscale.”
Four parcels of Smejkal’s land are zoned for recreation management and one parcel for agriculture-forestry.
It is legal for Smejkal to log the parcel zoned for forestry, but the county issued a cease-and-desist order in July after the Department of Forestry reported he was planning a logging operation on the other four parcels without county approval. Caplinger said.
For now, Smejkal is only permitted to clear brush in the right of way granted by ODOT for a temporary service road. Smejkal said he is brushing his property under the state Forest Practices Act to provide a firebreak, a gap in vegetation that acts as a barrier to slow the progress of a brushfire or wildfire.
“We’re brushing it according to firebreak standards so engineers and geologists can wade through it for surveys,” he said.
Caplinger said this does not apply the same way on land zoned for recreation management — the majority of Smejkal’s property. He said he is working with Smejkal to find a way to temporarily allow legal brushing on the land to accommodate the geohazard surveys the county requires to move forward in the process.
ORCA president and Ecola Watershed Council member Mike Manzulli said these kind of violations not only disregard the planning process, but the survival of the marbled murrelet, which only lives in increasingly rare, old-growth, coastal forests.
While surveys have yet to be conducted to show whether Smejkal’s property is directly home to these birds, the Department of Forestry identified the property as immediately adjacent to a marbled murrelet management area in 2009.
“Given the time frame, and Mr. Smejkal’s disregard of our local ordinances, it is in the best interest of the threatened marbled murrelet and people that care about the birds’ dwindling critical habitat to try and purchase this land now,” Manzulli said.
Smejkal said no one has come forward with any kind of an offer, but said “anything is for sale.”
Caplinger said many of the aspects of the plan, like water and sewer infrastructure, will be guided by geological surveys.
Because the property is in a resource zone, anyone 300 feet from Smejkal’s property line will receive a notice from the county after his plan is submitted for the opportunity to participate in a public comment period and hearing.
Both the county and ORCA said they are keeping a close eye on development to make sure local ordinances are followed. But until more surveys are completed, a timeline for when this could be completed is not clear.
“It’s going to be awhile,” Caplinger said.