GOLD BEACH — The Curry County planning commission has delayed its decision on a proposed golf course near Port Orford for a month.
The commission held open the public comment period for the Pacific Gales Golf Course for an additional 14 days at the request of two environmental groups. That will be followed by a seven-day period for rebuttal testimony and seven days for developers to make their final arguments.
The commission now plans to deliberate and vote on the conditional use permit application at a Feb. 27 meeting in Gold Beach.
The proposal calls for an 18-hole golf course on a portion of the Knapp Ranch, located between Cape Blanco and the city limits. Because Pacific Gales would be built on land zoned exclusive farm use, a conditional use permit is required.
In his report on the project, interim Planning Director David Pratt recommended the commission approve the application, with a number of conditions.
Chris Hood, who presented the project to the planning commission on behalf of Elk River Property Development LLC, agreed with the report with the exception of a few of the 17 conditions Pratt had listed, all referring to wetlands.
Because the developers plan to avoid impacting wetlands while building the golf course, Hood said a 50-foot setback for the golf course — one of the proposed conditions — is not necessary.
“I don’t think we’re going to be harming the wetlands with what we’re doing,” he said, adding that instead the golf course would enhance the wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Hood also said a condition on the specific area that might be used for the golf course is restrictive, since the proposed routing might be changed when a final analysis of wetlands on the property is completed by a Wilsonville firm that specializes in that area, a process that is waiting for winter rainfall to determine what wetlands are present.
“I don’t think the area we need to develop will increase a lot, we just may need to shift some,” he said.
An overflow crowd turned out for Thursday night’s meeting in Gold Beach, with several Port Orford area residents speaking out in support of the golf course and others speaking against it, or at least voicing concerns for the commission to consider before voting on the project.
“I am generally in favor of the project for the economic opportunity it will provide Port Orford,” said Jim Auburn, the city’s mayor, adding that the course would employ a number of people and also boost businesses including restaurants, motels and tourist attractions.
“I think those are things we need.”
Michael Hewitt, a retired state parks manager and neighbor to the south of the golf course, agreed.
“I want to say thank you for your boldness making this project,” he said to the Pacific Gales representatives at the meeting. “This county needs economic development. We need to move forward.”
But other residents raised concerns.
Penelope Suess said that once the golf course is built, the land will never return to its natural state and that there is no guarantee the golf course will be able to compete with others in the region and draw the golfers it would need to be economically viable.
And if it does work, and leads to additional businesses in town, the city’s infrastructure could become overstressed, especially a water system that already is in bad shape, she said.
Bigger objections were raised by environmental groups, all in comments submitted to the planning department Thursday.
The Kalmiopsis Audubon Society was represented at the meeting by President Ann Vileisis and Tim Palmer, both Port Orford residents.
Vileisis said the golf course could have a severe impact on the fish populations in the Elk River north of the golf course, including native coho salmon, a threatened species, and fall Chinook salmon.
Water taken from the river and an unnamed tributary on the Knapp property for irrigation on the golf course could lead to higher river and stream temperatures, she said.
Meanwhile, both the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and the Oregon Coast Alliance, which did not have representatives speak Thursday, requested that the comment period remain open for 14 days.
In rebuttal to Vileisis, Hood said the golf course isn’t impacting any salmon streams since the land it will be built on drains to the south.
He also cautioned the commission that its focus needs to be on the application and whether the developers have satisfied the rules for the conditional use.
“Your job is not to come in to satisfy every whim and environmental concern,” he said.