Tillamook Project Moving Forward

For the past 12 years the Port of Tillamook (Oregon) has been studying ways to make use of the 1,600 acres it owns. As fall of 2004 begins, the Port is arriving at some answers that may come to fruition next spring.

On tap for the land located two miles south of the city of Tillamook are a handful of projects that are being grouped into a single development proposal. The current plans include an 18-hole golf course designed by John Harbottle III, a 150-room hotel, a convention center and a 256-lot residential subdivision.

The Tillamook County Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners have already approved the golf course, hotel and convention center. The housing element went before both agencies as a separate item earlier in January. The success of the overall project, though, may hinge on the subdivision, and Port officials have taken an all-or-nothing stance when it comes to building the project components at the same time.

That has not sat well with a coastal advocacy group called the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition (OSCC), which is waging a legal battle over the subdivision’s impact with the Port via Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals, an agency that has frowned on golf- and zoning-related projects in the past.

The homes would be developed on 83 acres owned by the Port. Though zoned industrial, the land abuts property used primarily for agricultural purposes. OSCC opposes such a development there, arguing the subdivision would drive dairy farmers from the region.

“Agriculture is probably one of the biggest industries, if not the largest industry, in Tillamook,” said OSCC board member Cameron La Follette to Justin Stranzl of the Portland Daily Journal of Commerce. “The kind of housing the Port is proposing is exactly the sort of thing that over time tends to drive agriculture away from areas where it is welcome.”

Tillamook, of course, is famed for its dairy operations. Tillamook Cheese is a century-old business that not only puts out famous products, but is a popular tourist destination in this rainy city close to the Pacific Ocean in Northwest Oregon.

In countering OSCC’s claims, project proponents claim that each of the Port’s proposals would have a largely positive impact on the region. Port manager Jack Crider told Stranzl that the golf course alone would result in 100 new jobs. Richard Carr, president of Infrastructure Solutions Inc., a Flagstaff, Ariz., company helping the Port develop the projects and secure financing for them, added that the 256 lots would “help with what we believe is a housing shortage for families (in need of) second- and third-generation housing.”

The overall project would occupy 400 acres and cost about $400 million to complete. The Port views the golf course, hotel and convention center as solid revenue generators, but the housing component is necessary for all of the elements to pencil out. “The project is interest-rate sensitive and interest rates are starting to slip here, so if there’s much delay (in getting permission to develop the subdivision) we ultimately could lose the project.”

In addition to permission from LUBA, the Port needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the project would impact about seven acres of wetlands. But neither Crider nor La Follette figure that permit application will present serious problems. The biggest issue is whether the Port will be allowed to proceed with developing a new subdivision on property located beside farm land and two miles from the closest urban area, a practice La Follette calls “leapfrog sprawl” and a “dangerous precedent.”

Crider and company are hoping things get settled soon. “We’re hoping by January (2005) we’re in the thick of funding this thing,” Crider told Portland Daily Journal of Commerce. “And then by February, we’re out getting contracts and then getting ready as soon as (the weather) dries out in March or April and we’re out digging dirt.”