State parks director Tim Wood and the parks commission "failed miserably" and lost the community's confidence when they traded most of Arcadia Park for privately owned land, Cannon Beach Mayor Mike Morgan said in a recent letter to Wood.
"When the most affected jurisdictions, residents and property owners are unaware of a potential transaction, one can hardly find that a process was conducted in an 'atmosphere of openness, honesty and integrity,'" said Morgan, quoting the department's own administrative rules.
Morgan and Cannon Beach resident Robin Risley, who recently was appointed to the state parks commission, also met with Wood.
Wood told Morgan and Risley that he would call local governments or nonprofit organizations, like the North Coast Land Conservancy, the next time such land transactions are being considered, Morgan said after the meeting.
"So this was kind of a sad, sad chapter in state parks history when they should be expanding parks on the coast and not shrinking them," he added.
James Smejkal, who received 17.6 acres of Arcadia State Park from the state Parks and Recreation Department in 2002, is seeking a zone change and exceptions to several state land-use goals so he can build eight houses on the land.The Clatsop County Planning Commission will resume a public hearing next week on the proposal
The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St., Astoria.
Written comments regarding the proposal will be included in the planning commission's materials if they are submitted to the planning staff by 5 p.m. today.
The property, east of U.S. Highway 101 across from the Arcadia Beach Wayside, is zoned recreational management and agriculture-forestry. Smejkal is requesting a zone change to residential agricultural 2, which would allow eight houses. Exceptions on several state land-use goals also must be approved before the development can proceed.
Tuesday's hearing is a continuation of a hearing that occurred Jan. 13. The planning commission continued the hearing because notices to nearby property owners contained the wrong location.
At least 18 people testified against the proposal on Jan 13, and only one person - planning consultant Mark Barnes, who represented Smejkal - supported the request. Opponents said the development would destroy the area's open space and could jeopardize the environment with the installation of roads, water and septic systems in the steeply sloped area.
If the property's current zone is maintained, however, an RV park would be allowed as a conditional use.
Smejkal received the acreage as part of a land swap with the state Parks and Recreation Department in 2002. The department gave him the 17.6 acres, valued at $151,000, plus 30 acres in Wallowa County, valued at $6,000 in return for 113 acres Smejkal owned that eventually became Stub Stewart State Park in Columbia County. The parks department also paid Smejkal an additional $1,140,740 in 2007 for the timber on the 113 acres.
Although Wood has said the land swap was approved by the commission in a public meeting conducted in Roseburg, the loss of most of the 25-acre Arcadia State Park became known by surrounding property owners only recently. Even city officials from Cannon Beach, about three miles north of the park, didn't know about the trade.
In his letter to Wood, Morgan said that parks properties "constitute an important element of the fabric of coastal communities."
"Residents of a community potentially affected by a land exchange or sale should be afforded an open, easily accessible public review process so that they have an opportunity to make their concerns known to the parks commission," he added.
Calling the system of state parks along the Oregon coast the "crown jewel" of Oregon's park system and the envy of other coastal states, Morgan said the city is concerned that the parks department would "even consider the sale of any coastal property that is immediately adjacent to U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean."
"Any reduction in the department's land holdings in areas immediately adjacent to the Pacific Ocean is extremely short-sighted given the ever-increasing development pressure on the Oregon Coast," Morgan added.