DEPOE BAY — A recently appointed member of the Depoe Bay Planning Commission came under fire Tuesday night as city residents filled nearly every open seat at the city council’s regular meeting to oppose his loosely discussed plans to develop his property on Shell Avenue.
More than 20 Depoe Bay residents packed into the council chambers at city hall Tuesday night in an attempt to protest any exceptions to city code that would allow a 2.4 acre property at 941 Shell Avenue to be developed into workforce housing. The property is owned by Jeff Hudnall, a Lincoln City resident who recently joined Depoe Bay’s planning commission at its president’s request, filling its single non-resident seat.
Prior to his appointment, Hudnall came before the Depoe Bay City Council to ask for input on what he should build at the Shell Avenue lot. His initial plan was to build 24 cottages to serve as vacation rentals, but he came before the council to discuss the possibility of workforce housing after councilors said there was a greater need for it during a council meeting.
While councilors had differing opinions on what the lot would be better suited for, there was only ever speculative discussion about the property and no decisions were made by the council or commission. Hudnall has made no formal proposal to the city since then, though he did go before the city’s Urban Renewal Agency to ask for some relief regarding the $400,000 he expects to pay in system development costs when he develops the property. He said it will cost around $4 million for him to personally finance the project, which he intends to do.
There was no item regarding the Hudnall’s development on Tuesday’s agenda, and it was last discussed by the council when Hudnall was appointed to the planning commission on April 5. Hudnall’s position on the commission and his development plans were scrutinized on the Depoe Bay Community Facebook group over the past few weeks, however.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Debbie Poland spoke on behalf of the attending Depoe Bay residents, reading from a letter the group submitted to the planning commission and council regarding Hudnall.
Poland said she and other city residents believe Hudnall joined the planning commission in order to change city building codes that prevent “cluster housing” at his lot, after Hudnall having referred to the concept of “cluster cottages” during a discussion at one of his first planning commission meetings.
Though she acknowledged Hudnall likely would not be allowed to vote on whether to approve such a project, she believes his presence on the commission would allow him to sway its decisions. She went on to say the residents did not believe Hudnall had the best interests of the city at heart and that his only interest seemed to be profit.
“We will do our best to prevent the inappropriate use of lot 941,” Poland read. “Our town has a picturesque and wholesome reputation, and we intend to protect the reputation of our town and harbor to the best of our ability.”
Poland read from a list of issues residents believed a workforce housing development at the lot could cause. Those concerns included: increased traffic on a road used by children from Neighbors For Kids; creating a “cluttered look” near the harbor; taxing the city’s aging and at-capacity sewer and water systems; additional noise in the area; and an increased susceptibility to storm and earthquake damage at the lot due to the removal of trees.
Poland said Depoe Bay residents did not want to pay to support the development in any way, especially if it involved levying a tax on residents, likely referencing Hudnall’s discussion with the urban renewal agency, which Hudnall says went nowhere.
Poland concluded by saying the group had collected signatures on a petition to oppose Hudnall’s development, which she submitted to the city. The group also intends to have a member attend all future planning commission and council meetings to keep the community aware of the situation.
The council did not address the group’s concerns Tuesday, but Hudnall’s property has come up several times in the past, usually at his behest.
Hudnall told News-Times staff Wednesday that he was surprised by the sudden opposition to his development, mostly because he hasn’t yet submitted any formal proposals to the city and has only spoken about it speculatively so far. In response to the sudden public outcry, he composed a letter about the situation that he hopes will dispel misinformation spread during Tuesday’s meeting. A copy of that document will be included with the online version of this article
According to Hudnall’s letter, he applied for the open planning commission position after attending one of the commission’s meetings where no action could be taken because there was no quorum. He said the chair of the commission, Judy Faucett, suggested he join, so he submitted an application at the following city council meeting
Hudnall was then appointed to the Depoe Bay Planning Commission by the city council on April 5 after a 4-3 vote. Councilor Lindsy Bedingfield said she thought Hudnall’s experience as a developer would make him a good candidate for the planning commission, while Councilor Fran Recht asked Hudnall if he was aware of the requirements to recuse himself if a motion came before the commission that he may have a conflict of interest on, to which he responded, “Not a problem.”
Hudnall also faced opposition from Councilor Jerome Grant, who was skeptical of Hudnall’s motives. Grant said he suspected Hudnall wanted a position on the commission to facilitate the development of his own property, which Hudnall denied.
During one of his first meetings as part of the planning commission, Recht attended and made a statement supporting using Hudnall’s lot to develop workforce housing, which he had pitched to the city council months before being appointed to the commission. This prompted a discussion among the commission members where Hudnall explained some of the difficulties such a development would face.
Hudnall said due to the property’s light industrial zoning, the easiest thing to develop would be to build 24 cottages for short-term dwelling, complemented by amenities like fire pits, a pavilion and store on the property.
An alternative that could function as workforce housing would be to build several “cottage clusters,” which would have at least three units each to fit the city’s requirements for multi-family dwellings, which would have room for three or more families in each structure. Such an endeavor would require approval from city council, and at this point, Hudnall considers it “off the table.”
Hudnall said he now considers joining the planning commission a mistake, and he plans to resign in an attempt to “defuse” any further arguments about his property or a possible conflict of interest.
“This has become a sideshow that the council and the planning commission doesn’t need any more than I do,” Hudnall wrote. “I will be resigning from the planning commission, and that should help defuse whatever future arguments this group may have when I do make an application to the commission for whatever is coming. Rest assured, I will develop this property.”
Hudnall said he encourages anyone with additional questions or concerns about his development to contact him at Jhudnallinvestments@gmail.com
Other agenda items from Tuesday’s meeting include:
• The council voted to reconsider a request by Leon Morrow, owner of the Triumph charter boat, to transfer moorage for the vessel after it changed ownership so it can continue operating. The council previously denied the transfer despite it being approved by the Depoe Bay Harbor Commission, but agreed to reconsider it at a future meeting after Morrow explained his situation in greater detail during public comment.
• The council voted to reduce the required members for a quorum for the Harbor Restoration Steering Committee from three to two until a new member representing Depoe Bay’s businesses is appointed.
• The council voted to have the city attorney send a letter to the Oregon Department of Transportation. The council previously voted last year to cancel a street project south of the Depoe Bay it had worked with ODOT to plan, after which, the state agency told the council it would owe more than $300,000 for work already done by the state department’s engineers if it canceled, as opposed to the $250,000 it would have paid for the project to go through.
• The council scheduled an emergency meeting for 9 a.m. today (Friday) to review hiring a new city recorder and contracting with Barret Business Services to help find interested candidates. The council will also consider a moratorium on assigning new moorage at that time.