PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Clatsop County leaders want to hide behind their keyboards, the powerful need to be held accountable as they’re considering giving away more than a dozen acres of taxpayer-owned forest land in Arch Cape for free.

While there are good intentions to turn it into affordable housing, KOIN 6 is asking why they don’t have a more thorough process and protections in place to ensure housing is feasible first.

Residents and leaders alike told KOIN how much they need affordable housing along the coast, but where they don’t see eye to eye is how and where it should be developed.

Chris Mastrandrea from the Responsible Land Use Alliance has more than a decade of experience in commercial construction project management.

The steep, rugged, heavily forested landscape in his hometown of Arch Cape, he says isn’t well suited for building, let alone affordable housing. There are currently no roads or utilities, meaning it would require a developer to brining in water, sewer, power, broadband, and storm water systems.

“My gut reaction is it better be a passion project for someone because it’s going to be incredibly expensive and it’s going to take a very, very long time,” said Mastrandrea.

Clatsop county commissioners are currently considering giving away more than a dozen acres of this land for free to a newly formed nonprofit that has expressed interest in building low-income housing here.

“We are concerned that housing will not actually get built or will not get built in a timely manner to meet the need,” said Bill Campbell, Responsible Land Use Alliance member.

Campbell and Mastrandrea are advocating that Clatsop County commissioners develop a standard, due diligence process before giving away “millions of dollars” of tax-payer-owned land for free.

“We think that allowing a private citizen to pick any piece of free land, give it away, and then determine how and what they’re going to build on that is not an effective strategy for housing,” said Campbell. “It’s irresponsible. It’s just nuts.”

The barrier to entry to get this free land is slim, to none.

“So what we found out right now is the county’s process is you have to have a nonprofit business or be a municipality, and you need to fill out a one-page piece of paper expressing your interest on said tax lot, while selecting one of the three boxes: low-income housing, social services or childcare,” said Mastrandrea.

A geologist, who has written two papers on the geology of Clatsop County, wrote a letter to the commissioners pointing out flaws in their plan.

The letter said it would have harsh impacts on the habitat, put people too far from necessary services like emergency responders and the grocery store, but most importantly that the land itself is geologically unstable and unfit for housing.

The residents’ greatest fear, without proper feasibility studies first, is that the county will give away the land, an inexperienced developer will attempt to build and fail and the once rich forest will go fallow.

“We all know affordable housing is needed and we need to make sure that we put a standard, transparent process in place to make sure that it’s achievable and happens in a timely manner,” Mastrandrea emphasized.

Because a goal without a plan, they say, is just a wish.

The Responsible Land Use Alliance is asking Clatsop County commissioners for a five-step process to assess:

  1. Social benefits: Determine if it’s an appropriate place for housing: how close is it to schools, jobs, and health care?
  2. Environmental suitability: Is it steep wetlands, does it put endangered species at risk, does it have roads, what will it take to build on?
  3. Developer qualifications: Has the developer built anything before? What’s their success been? (e.g. building credentials, license)
  4.  Design, build & operation plan: How are they going to make sure that the right people get to live there? (e.g. zoning, conditional use, completion timeframe, property management, duration of use, reverse cause, etc.)
  5. Financial viability: Does this person have enough capital to build? Where is the money coming from? Is it going to work and within what time frame?

KOIN 6 obtained county documents that show that a similar five-step process is something the county manager has even proposed that the commissioners should implement before giving away land for free.

Similar processes for protection are used in Tillamook and Deschutes Counties, Lincoln City, and Astoria.

Along the coast Thursday, Clatsop County leaders refused on-camera interviews and asked for questions to be emailed instead.

Clatsop County has given away free land for low-income housing in Seaside in the past, but nothing has been built yet.

There is an upcoming opportunity to give public comment at the commissioners’ meeting next Wednesday, Jan. 25.

The county will have a board session on this topic on Feb. 1.