Clatsop County officials are looking into what's next for the North Coast Business Park, now that the county has finished Phase I of its development plans.

The initial phase included selling about 75 acres of county property along U.S. Highway101 to developer North Coast Retail for $8.6 million last May.

North Coast Retail in turn has sold some of that land to Costco, which built a new store opposite Home Depot, and created a total of eight lots aimed at drawing other commercial businesses.

The county now must legally reinvest the money it made on the sale back into the remaining county property in the business park.

"We are required to take the proceeds of the sale and reinvest in the park," said Assistant County Manager Nicole Williams. "There's a specific statute for industrial lands. Otherwise, we have to distribute the funds to local taxing districts."

The county wants to reinvest the money in the park to generate economic development. The county has an agreement with the Oregon Department of Transportation that by 2013 it will build a road through the business park that will connect U.S. Highway 101 with Highway 101 alt., which runs past Les Schwab Tires and winds its way toward the Astoria-Warrenton Regional Airport and Fort Clatsop.

Remaining acreage in the business park is a mix of buildable acreage and wetlands.

"Some parts may not be developable because they are wetlands," Williams said, adding that county staff is currently assessing the wetlands issue. "We're hoping that we'll have that done by January or February, and that's the point where we're going to go to the board [of commissioners] to see what types of development they want to see go in there."

Earlier this year, county staff met with the Northwest Revitalization Team, a group made up of state agency representatives from Department of Environmental Quality, Division of State Lands, Oregon Economic Development Office and the Governor's Office, to talk about the second phase of development.

In early 2010, local leaders will convene with the county commission to decide what's next.

"It seems to me that it would behoove the county to have a strategic plan for the area," said Rick Gardner, executive director of the Clatsop Economic Development Resources, which is participating in the planning process.

"It would be great if we improved the land consistent with the road, and then we would know if we need an intersection and if so where."

Gardner said it would be wonderful if the county would agree to a Phase II focus on attracting businesse==s to the park that pay higher wages than retail.

He said many questions remain about the future of the remaining property in the business park.

"What's the county's role?" Gardner asked. "Do they want to be the developer here? At the end of the day do they want to be the property owner, the landlord, or do they want to sell it? If they want to sell it what do they want to do with the funds?

Gardner said CEDR plans to meet with county and city of Warrenton leaders to begin seeking answers and solutions.

"Right now, this is all zoned light industrial, and I think it is a gem - and a funded gem," he said. "And one that we could turn into something that would attract higher wage jobs."

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