Clatsop County commissioners have agreed to indefinitely pause community involvement in the comprehensive plan update, prompting questions from volunteers who have worked on the project over the past two years.

The comprehensive plan is the long-term vision for the county and sets planning policies that guide land use, recreation, transportation, natural resources and housing. The plan has not been updated since its original adoption in 1979.

County housing

Clatsop County is updating its comprehensive plan.

The update started in June 2019 with six citizen advisory committees representing the county’s land use planning areas and a countywide advisory committee.

The committees have covered eight of 18 goals, with the expectation of completing the review by December.

County commissioners have raised concerns about the slow pace of the committees’ work and want to simplify and expedite the process. There have also been concerns about some of the ideas coming out of the committee meetings.

“I think one of the most crucial areas and observations that we’ve seen as a staff is what is coming out of the committees in terms of how it relates to what is possible under state statute and what we believe to be the broad direction and how they would like the planning process to proceed moving forward and what their expectations are for the committee members,” Gail Henrikson, the county’s community development director, told commissioners during a work session in April.

“And so we see a lot of aspirational goals that are being put forward by the committees, but also realizing that a lot of those aspirational goals just will not be able to be included in the final plan simply because they’re not permitted by state statute is one of the big issues that we’ve seen over the past year as we’ve gone through this process.”

Henrikson said the aim is to end up with a final product that the board is able to adopt.

Commissioners unanimously supported pausing the work. During the hiatus, Henrikson said, county staff will continue to prepare drafts of the 18 goals and provide regular updates to the board.

“As we go forward, the governing body will take on the responsibility of truing up this process,” Commissioner Lianne Thompson said to committee members during a board meeting Wednesday night. “We’re working on this. Let me assure you, your work is honored. It is valued. It is not lost.

“A reset is essential right now for all aspects.”

When committee members received an email from Henrikson about the pause, there was some shock and speculation about the intent behind the move.

Several committee members attended the board meeting Wednesday to ask commissioners to reinstate the committee meetings.

“Has it been tedious and too long, maybe,” Patrick Corcoran, a member of the countywide citizen advisory committee, said. “But this is the part of the process that’s supposed to be difficult. This is the beginning part of the making of the sausage. And as the process works through, it will finally come to the Board of Commissioners to adopt the language as it is written at that point. So I’m a little more patient with the process.

“Pauses equal lost momentum on a major project and this project doesn’t need to lose momentum. Land use planning is a very complex, steep learning curve for the nontechnical stakeholders.”

Corcoran added that having county staff work exclusively with commissioners over the next several months is at odds with Oregon’s land use planning goals, which stress citizen involvement.

“While I’m hesitant to lose momentum, I think there is value in having a dialogue with commissioners, the Planning Commission and staff on the best way to move forward,” Andy Davis, the chairman of the countywide citizen advisory committee, said. “So what I’d like to ask you to consider is to include some of or all of the CAC members in the dialogue suggested at the work session so that we can share both our reflections on our current work and to have conversations with you about some of the items that were brought up, like aspirational goals and scope of authority.

“I think reasonable people can have different ideas about how those concepts fit into the comprehensive plan and having a dialogue about them outside of just short public comment periods may be helpful to everyone getting on the same page, or at least understanding each other and finding a way forward in a way that best contributes to making a successful comp plan — and in the long run makes our county stronger, which is what I believe all of us want in this process.”

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.