Move will allow fire department to sell propertyThe Clatsop County commissioners ended the impasse over the old Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District fire station Wednesday by dropping the county's reversionary interest in the property.

The board voted to abandon a clause in the old deed that required the property to revert to the county's ownership in the event it was no longer used as a fire station. In exchange, the fire district agreed to place a new, similar reversionary clause on its new station.

The move opens the way for the district to sell the property, located on Spruce Street in downtown Cannon Beach.

The county and the district have been at odds over the reversionary clause since 1996, when it was discovered after the fire district had won voter approval for a new station and had begun construction on the facility.

The district had planned to use the money from the sale of the old station site to help fund the new facility. But the county commissioners balked at giving up their interest in the property, which was assessed at more than $463,000 in 1997.

Commission Chairwoman Helen Westbrook said the new arrangement works for everyone - providing the district with much-needed funds, and getting the property back on the tax rolls where it will benefit the county and other taxing bodies.

"Otherwise, we just have two properties off the tax rolls," she said.

Reversionary clauses require that when a property is no longer used for its intended purpose, it must revert to the original owner, in this case the county. When the county commissioners refused to give up the reversionary interest in the old station, the fire district continued using it for storage and training, technically keeping it in use so that the clause did not kick in.

The county sold the land under the old station to the fire district for $1 in 1948, but included in the deed a reversionary clause requiring that the facility be used for fire district activities.

In seeking the waiver of the county's interest, the district argued that it made a considerable investment making the swampy ground for a station.

The fire district won voter approval for a $1.7 million bond to build a new fire station out of the tsunami inundation zone where the old station sat. It planned to use the proceeds from the sale of the old station to help fund the project. Without the funds, it was forced to spend down its reserves.

If the county had obtained ownership of the old station, it would only have received about 11 percent of the proceeds of any sale of the property. The rest of the money would have gone to other taxing districts.

While the county won't get the proceeds from the sale of the old station site, the new location, which will now carry a similar reversionary clause, could be worth two or three times the value of the old location, Westbrook said.

Westbrook, who served on the commission from 1994 to 1998, was the only commissioner to support giving up the reversionary clause when the issue first arose eight years ago. She also, as an aide to former state Rep. Jackie Taylor, helped with the passage of a bill in the 1999 Oregon Legislature that allows local governments to give up reversionary interests in properties, a law that cleared the way for Wednesday's action.

The Cannon Beach stand-off prompted the bill, but it is a useful tool for any public body that may also have development plans stymied by old reversionary clauses, Westbrook said.

"This is a broad issue for schools, city halls or libraries that may find themselves in flood zones, or that need to make seismic improvements, or have just outgrown their present buildings," she said.

In other business, the board approved by a 4-1 the first reading of an ordinance regulating short-term rentals in Arch Cape. The ordinance requires homeowners renting out their properties to obtain permits from the county, and places limits on the numbers of guests and vehicles.

Commissioner Richard Lee, who has opposed the ordinance as unnecessary, voted no.

The board also approved allocations to several nonprofit organizations. The county typically gives $15,000 to various local groups each year.

The amounts and recipients are: $550 for Lighthouse Child Abuse Assessment Center; $1,000 for Clatsop Healthy Families; $4,000 for Pioneer House; $1,500 for Clatsop Community Action; $4,000 for the Women's Resource Center; $1,000 for Peer Jury; $500 for Lutheran Family Services; $1,500 for Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); $500 for Restoration House; and $500 for North Coast Community in Schools.

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