SEASIDE - Judge Paula Brownhill will hear arguments Thursday on whether Seaside citizens can have a referendum and vote on the controversial U.S. Highway 101 project.

Mayor Don Larson, who is in favor of the project, said the city has worked on the plan with the Oregon Department of Transportation extensively.

"It affects our whole community," Larson said.

The project, which members of the Seaside City Council signed off on at their Nov. 22 meeting, involves widening the highway to four lanes, with a center lane for left turns in places and a median in others. South of Avenue N, the project divides into two one-way roads.

Local business owners are concerned with the effects the construction and changes to the highway will have on their livelihoods, and several are also unhappy that the citizens were not given the opportunity to vote on the project.

"When they voted 4-2 to not let the citizens vote, that's the most astonishing thing I've ever seen," said Bruce Smith, who owns Bruce Smith Automobiles, a used-car lot bordering the highway. He said citizens should not have to depend on a judge for the right to vote on a project that affects many people.

"Our fate's not in our hands, because the city fathers wouldn't let it," Smith said. "It was so simple to let the citizens vote. Whether you're for or against the highway doesn't matter ... The highway might get voted in. If that's what the people want, great."

Smith said 870 signatures were collected in 10 days for the referendum, about a quarter of the 3,556 voters currently registered in Seaside. Only 10 percent of registered voters need to sign a petition for a referendum. However, City Attorney Dan Van Thiel denied the referendum, saying approval of the project was an administrative matter, not a municipal one. Administrative actions are not subject to referendums. Citizens disagreed, and have hired lawyer Jill Gelineau to argue their case.

Smith said the project has already hurt some business owners, because getting funding is harder, and selling without disclosure of the project is impossible.

"For the city fathers to reach into people's lives is wrong," Smith said.

The hearing will take place at Clatsop County Circuit Court at 749 Commercial St. in Astoria.

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