WARRENTON — Desperate for housing, Pacific Seafood wants to turn a warehouse it owns in Warrenton into a dormitory for workers.
The Warrenton Planning Commission approved a development code amendment Thursday night that lays the groundwork for the seafood processor to create housing in a warehouse on industrial land near Carruthers Park and the dog park.
The decision, if approved by the City Commission in November, could open the door for other companies to do the same.
Lack of housing has became a major issue for employers in Clatsop County, who say they have trouble attracting and retaining employees because workers can’t find places to live, or can’t afford the places they do find.
Recently, some companies have decided to provide housing.
This year, Bornstein Seafoods bought an apartment complex to house workers. Pelican Brewing, with a pub in Cannon Beach, provides seven apartment units on site for employees, as well as a house in Manzanita.
Pacific Seafood opened a new 78,000-square-foot plant in Warrenton this summer on the Skipanon River, returning after a fire destroyed a previous plant on the site five years before. The new plant is expected to employ as many as 140 full-time and 100 seasonal workers.
But the West Coast seafood processor has struggled over the past three to five years to find housing for seasonal workers across its many locations, representatives told the Planning Commission Thursday.
News outlets in Newport reported this summer that the company was looking at building housing for employees along U.S. Highway 101.
“It’s gotten to the extent that we put people up in hotels and motels,” said Michael Miliucci, manager of special projects and a lawyer for Pacific Seafood.
But hotel rooms are difficult to come by on the coast, particularly during tourism-heavy months. They looked into purchasing apartment buildings, but did not want to have to evict people living in the units to make room for employees.
“That’s just not the way Pacific operates,” Miliucci told planning commissioners.
The company looked at options in Astoria, but encountered long waiting lists even on apartment complexes still under construction.
“Based on the present housing prices, there’s no housing,” Miliucci said. Warrenton planning staff recommended approval of the code amendment, which would allow the development of the dormitory-style housing as an outright use.
Kevin Cronin, the city’s community development director, doesn’t know of any other coastal community contemplating this particular kind of solution to address the lack of worker housing. “We’re doing some groundbreaking work,” he told the Planning Commission. In the process, the city may learn things it didn’t anticipate, he acknowledged.
Paul Mitchell, the chairman of the Planning Commission, agreed with Cronin that Warrenton could have a hand in pioneering ways for companies to provide worker housing.
“We’re seeing this more and more in this community,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the kind of housing that we need.”
There are no details yet about how the interior of Pacific Seafood’s warehouse dormitory will be configured to accommodate workers, nor how many employees it could house. The company still needs to work with the city’s building department to nail down those specifics and figure out the logistics of turning a warehouse into housing.