SEASIDE — The Seaside School District cleared a major hurdle Tuesday night. Members of the city’s Planning Commission made a recommendation that could lead to the building of a new school campus outside of the tsunami inundation zone.
By voting to recommend approval of the district’s request for an expansion of the urban growth boundary, the commission paved the way for rezoning 40 acres of the property and annexing an additional 49-acre portion of the property, located at Seaside Heights Elementary School, 2000 Spruce Drive.
“This is one of the key pieces in moving the schools up onto the new property,” former superintendent and member of the district’s construction oversight committee Doug Dougherty said after the meeting. “This is a major step.”
Although a conceptual plan for the site was included in the district’s submission, this was not a request to approve a development plan for the site, according to a city staff report.
The request, headed to the City Council, would make amendments to the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and zoning map necessary for the school district to prepare a conditional use request for an institutional development plan for the campus.
Consultant Greg Winterowd of Winterbrook Planning said the school’s request addresses relevant criteria of statewide planning goals, the Seaside comprehensive plan and the Clatsop County comprehensive plan.
The proposed location is the only site that meets all seven city criteria, he said, and the only site with access to a major collector street, South Wahanna Road.
“Once we get approval, we know we have the proper zoning, the intent is to finish the development plan, show them what this development plan is and then really focus on impacts,” Winterowd said.
Educators, school board members, government officials, former students and others stressed the urgency of the commission’s decision, the result of what Dougherty said was a result of more than 25 years of research into the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Dougherty said studies could not tell exactly when a Cascadia event would occur, but it’s “highly likely to occur by 2060. It’s very important this get done as quickly as possible.”
Patrick Wingard of the Department of Land Conservation and Development and Oregon Coastal Management Program evaluated the proposal in terms of statewide planning goals, particularly those relating to tsunami inundation zones and urban and rural uses.
“We support the proposal because they’ve shown the proper rationale and justification to show the locational and need requirements laid out in statewide planning goals,” Wingard said.
Seaside High School Principal Jeff Roberts called the school the “hub of the community” and encouraged commissioners to “do what is best for kids” by approving the application.
Recent Seaside grad Brad Rzewnicki said he saw no other option than moving the schools to the new campus. “I think this new school will promote even greater learning for the staff, as well as other students,” he said.
Gearhart’s Mayor Matt Brown, speaking as a district resident, said he was supportive of the zone change.
Brown called the move an “investment” into the communities of Gearhart, Seaside and Cannon Beach fitting into the criteria outlined for the urban growth boundary amendment.
Chairman Steve Phillips of the school district’s board of directors said the campus would provide an emergency, higher elevation refuge in case of tsunami or natural disaster.
“There are a lot of positives to this and I encourage you to move forward and allow us to continue our planning,” Phillips said.
Issues raised during public testimony included concerns about traffic on Spruce Drive, Wahanna Road and Cooper Road, a side street occasionally used as a cut-through.
Wingard asked for assurances that future development of existing school properties — Gearhart Elementary School, Seaside High School and Broadway Middle School — would not be rezoned for higher density uses.
Coordinator of the Necanicum Watershed Council Melyssa Graeper asked that any new road consider waterways and wetlands.
District bus driver Allan Erickson drew attention to potential traffic bottlenecks of Spruce Drive and Wahanna Road, as well vulnerability of the city’s bus barn and maintenance facility in the case of a catastrophic event.
Commissioners told district officials they would like to see traffic measures — including stop signs, lower speed limits and limits on left-hand turns in some locations — discussed in future applications.
Commissioners considered holding the hearing open for another month, but ultimately decided to take an immediate vote.
“I don’t see any testimony coming that would change my mind as to how I’m going to vote here,” Commissioner Richard Ridout said in asking for a vote.
“The concerns are valid, but that will be taken care of at a later date,” Commissioner Lou Neubecker said.
Commissioners unanimously agreed in recommending approval to the council.
“It’s exactly what we were looking for,” Superintendent Sheila Roley said after the commission’s unanimous vote.
Community-based meetings could begin after the start of the school year.
“Whether or not we can solve every single problem in the way each person asks — we can’t guarantee that,” she said. “But what we can guarantee is that we will really listen and work collaboratively with all of our partners to get the best possible solutions.”