SEASIDE — In a heated public hearing, residents expressed concerns to the Seaside City Council Monday about the impact of a proposed southeast urban renewal plan.
The hearing was a chance for city councilors to consider whether the urban renewal district is in compliance with city goals. It also is the last stop before city councilors vote Aug. 28 whether to adopt the urban renewal plan, which has been in development since January.
While the city has heralded the $68 million program as an efficient way to pay for long-term infrastructure projects, some residents and the Oregon Coast Alliance argue that plans to include unincorporated forestland outside of the urban growth boundary do not follow the city’s comprehensive plan.
Others were concerned about overdevelopment, traffic and how projects would be implemented. But the largest sentiment coming from the audience was the feeling there was not enough public comment leading up to the vote.
“All we want to do is be heard. I don’t think people are necessarily against development — we just want it to be smart,” Maria Pincetich, a resident, said in the hearing.
City councilors said there were multiple public meetings on the issue.
“Urban renewal is a proven tool in Seaside for infrastructure. How many enjoy the North Holladay boulevard? If we didn’t have urban renewal money we wouldn’t be able to do that,” City Councilor Tita Montero said. “Seaside will benefit to have the south entry to the city not look like a scumbag.”
Urban renewal is a financing program authorized under state law and implemented locally allowing the use of property tax revenues from city and regional taxing districts to grow the economy in blighted or underdeveloped areas.
The Turnaround and Prom, the city’s sewage plant, 12th Avenue improvements and construction of a new library are the products of past urban renewal plans.
Using tax-increment financing, funding comes through increases in assessed values of local properties.
As new development arrives and existing properties are improved, assessments rise and see property tax increases. Property taxes on the growth in assessed value in the urban renewal area are frozen and increases are allocated to the city’s urban renewal agency and not the taxing districts.
Property taxes don’t raise for the individual. Instead, a portion of what people are already paying will go to urban renewal rather than to other taxing districts, urban renewal consultant Elaine Howard said.
The urban renewal district plans to fund projects like road and sewer system needs for the new Seaside school campus, storefront redesign, property acquisition, and most notably, an estimated $45 million for bridge improvements at avenues A, G, S and U.
“We are very committed to the concept of urban renewal,” Mayor Jay Barber said. “It really is about improving what we already have, and without urban-renewal we would not have the financial resources to complete those projects.”
One of the aspects Pincetich took issue with was the idea of annexing 32 acres of unincorporated forest land as a part of the new district. She said she was involved in discussions about expanding the urban growth boundary, which was tabled last summer.
“The (Portland State University) population statistics have been published and cites negligible growth for Clatsop County. Why the urban growth expansion?” Pincetich said.
City Manager Mark Winstanley said that 32 acres out the 560 acres in the entire plan was included in the urban renewal district so that the city could possibly have another point of entry to build road, water or sewer infrastructure to the school site.
“I think there has been some confusion between the urban growth boundary expansion and the urban renewal district. They are two distinct things,” he said. “It’s not about increasing the size of the city.”
However, city councilors received written testimony hours before the hearing from Sean Malone, an attorney with the Oregon Coast Alliance, who asserts that by including this property in the urban renewal district the city is not in compliance with its comprehensive plan.
Malone wrote that the comprehensive plan says forestlands “shall be conserved for forest uses,” and argued that “this policy would not be served in any way by using the property for the school district.”
Winstanley, as well as the City Council, declined to comment on Malone’s testimony because they did not have a chance to read it before the meeting.
Others were concerned about improvement projects on Wahanna Road and Spruce Street bringing more traffic into otherwise quiet residential areas. Residents also feared language in the plan allowing eminent domain, an act that allows a city to buy property for fair market value in order to complete an infrastructure project.
“We have a very quiet neighborhood,” said James Hall, who lives on Cooper Street. “This could create a lot more traffic and effect the general peacefulness of our neighborhood.”
Winstanley said Seaside has never used eminent domain in urban renewal projects in the past 32 years, and said residents should not worry about that changing this time around.
City Councilor Steve Wright also noted that developing roads to the new school site was not just up to the city, but of the transportation advisory commission and the school district, and that this was an ongoing discussion.
After the hourlong hearing, there was still a sense from some residents that their voices were still not being heard.
Pincetich said it’s not just about the number of public meetings held, but the number of public comment periods to allow the public to interact with the city.
“There was one hearing on the conformance to the comprehensive plan, but until now no public hearings about the actual merits of the plan,” she said.