Questions for Mary Leverette running for City Council in Wheeler

Submitted By: – Click to email about this post
This is from the Headlight Herald dated October 22, 2021
Recently, an article was posted on the Oregon Coast Alliance (ORCA) website under the “News” and “Victories” tabs. The title of the article was “Wheeler: The End of the Ulbricht Project and the Beginning of a Brighter Future.” The article was about, once again, stopping a developer from building on waterfront property. However, the title of the article is misleading because the project is not at an end.
For years, a small group of Wheeler citizens has vocally opposed a potential development in our small village. In the face of this opposition, other voices and other opinions have been drowned out. Has yours?
Will Wheeler have a “brighter future” if development is stifled? Probably not. Do you really want to sit back and let only one small group determine the future for Wheeler? We urge our neighbors to become acquainted with all sides of the current, proposed development plans and any future plans. Take time to learn about the options and make your voices heard about what you believe to be in the best interests of Wheeler.
We encourage our fellow citizens to join us at City Council and Planning Commission meetings. Become informed. Get involved. Make your voices known.
-Mary Leverette, Cynthia Simmons and Jane Geason, Wheeler
Just so people can catch up, here’s the article of reference
Wheeler: The End of the Ulbricht Project and the Beginning of a Brighter Future
Wheeler is a tiny town of about 400 residents, which borders the Nehalem River estuary in Tillamook County. It is a picturesque place, and that is one of its great assets. But Wheeler’s waterfront happens to have a fairly large, undeveloped parcel, owned until 2016 by Tillamook County residents Vern Scovell and John Jelineo. The town is on a hill, so views from its houses, across the vacant property and into the Bay, are magnificent. Scovell and Jelineo also owned Botts Marsh, an important saltwater marsh lying next to the shore. Scovell long ago tried to build a marina there, and Tillamook County granted an exception for the project in 1985 — but it was never built. Later, the two owners tried twice for an Oregon Parks and Recreation grant to make the Marsh and much of the upland a park. Unfortunately, OPRD twice denied the grant, the second time in June 2014.
Wheeler’s residents know what their town should look like. The Wheeler Vision Report, completed in 2011, makes it clear that residents want several things: a Planned Development Ordinance that protects the small town atmosphere; a waterfront plan that emphasizes low key buildings, natural resources protection and limits on large-scale development; and a focus on green space that enhances the City. Whether or not these things happen depends on the town’s political will. In November 2012, City Council directed that the Vision Report be made a part of the Comprehensive Plan as an essential background document. This was a very positive step.
The Fight for Wheeler’s Future: The Ulbricht Project
In 2016 the entire property, both Botts Marsh and the upland, were sold to Ken Ulbricht, a developer from Seaside. Ulbricht eventually sold the Marsh to the Lower Nehalem Community Trust, and it is protected. But after a long anticipated wait, Ulbricht in 2019 unveiled his plans for the upland property, to residents’ dismay: he proposed a large “boutique” hotel and a commercial building for fish processing that would also contain a restaurant, employee housing and other uses. It was called “The Village on Nehalem Bay.” Cottages were to be added later, in a subsequent phase of the development.
The project was controversial from the outset, at the initial planning commission hearings. The issues included traffic, water and sewer availability, the property’s geological stability, and soil contamination from previous use as a millsite. But the central issue was whether such a massive project aligned with the Vision Plan, which is a mandatory criterion for development approval. Residents, and Oregon Coast Alliance, were adamant that it did not. Nevertheless, the planning commission, and then City Council, approved the project in 2020. ORCA and concerned residents appealed the approval to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
LUBA remanded the city’s decision, principally on grounds that the city had failed to show how the project aligned with the Vision Plan. At a remand hearing in May 2021, Ulbricht tried again to show how his Village on Nehalem Bay fit the tenets of Wheeler residents’ vision for their future. But this time City Council disagreed, and voted against reinstating the project. Wheeler residents have good cause to be proud of their defense of a future for their town, which they laid out a decade before the Ulbricht project tested the strength of their vision. Wheeler, and the Nehalem Bay waterfront, will remain as picturesque as they always have been.
Will you recuse yourself on voting issues regarding Mr Ulbricht because of your comments?