WARRENTON — Clatsop County learned Jan. 28 that its North Coast Business Park
earned a coveted designation from state economic development officials.
The Economic Recovery Review Council announced that the county-owned site in Warrenton has been designated a Regionally Significant Industrial Area (RSIA).
The RSIA label, the result of a lengthy application process, gives the county several advantages in its efforts to promote the development of industries offering familywage jobs on the 162-acre site. It prevents re-zoning or other changes on the property that would reduce or interfere with industrial development on the property. The designation also provides additional state support for job creation in the area, and may also give it higher priority with the state for infrastructure and transportation improvements funding.
“This is exciting news for Clatsop County,” County Manager Scott Somers said. “The North Coast Business Park is a key part of our goal to support the creation of new good-paying jobs for our citizens.”
The RSIA program, approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2011, is designed to help preserve the state’s best industrial lands.
Criteria for RSIA designation include vacant land suitable for new or expanded industrial uses that would offer significant additional employment to a region; features not found in other properties in the region; direct rail, port, air and multimodal freight access; and proximity to labor markets.
The county’s RSIA application, submitted in June, noted that the North Coast Business Park contains the largest contiguous site of buildable industrial-zoned land in the county, with individual sections of between 10.4 and 46 acres offering flexible development options. The business park also lies near two highways, a regional airport and deep-water port, the application noted. The land is zoned General Industrial, which allows a variety of uses including manufacturing, business offices and distribution services.
The property that became the North Coast Business Park was cleared and graded in the 1960s for a proposed aluminum plant that was never built. The county gained ownership of the roughly 270-acre property in 1991 and crafted a master plan calling for approximately 70 acres adjacent to U.S. Highway 101 to be sold for commercial development, with the proceeds dedicated to infrastructure improvements on the rest of the land. Excluding existing uses, infrastructure and wetlands, approximately 117 acres are available for industrial development.
The county has contracted with real estate broker Diane Peterson to market the property to potential developers.
The Economic Recovery Review Council is made up of directors from Business Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality, Land Conservation and Development Department, Department of State Lands and Oregon Department of Transportation.
In related news, Somers on Feb. 3 attended the Astoria City Council meeting to begin making a case for Astoria, Warrenton and the Port of Astoria to partner with the county on an enterprise zone as an incentive to attract industry and create jobs.
The enterprise zone, which would not amend local land use and permitting requirements, could cover Astoria’s downtown corridor, the Port, Tongue Point, the North Coast Business Park and other parcels in Warrenton.
Businesses could receive property tax breaks on new plants and equipment for three to five years. The businesses would have to meet minimum employment levels and other conditions in return for the tax exemptions.
“It’s really meant to be another tool in the toolbox to create investment, to hopefully create jobs,” Somers told the council.
Councilor Cindy Price questioned whether enterprise zones are effective beyond helping large existing businesses that are looking to expand. She cited the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill, which had received property tax breaks for a new paper machine through an enterprise zone, was later disqualified for not meeting minimum employment requirements, and then challenged the mill’s property tax assessments. The dispute ended in a $2.5 million settlement with Clatsop County and other taxing districts in 2012.
Price said she would not want to give up property tax revenue “unless it can really be shown that it’s going to do us great benefit.”
Somers said Astoria could choose not to co-sponsor the initiative.
“Clatsop County and the city of Warrenton and the Port can still move forward with that,” he said. “It’s up to the city. The city doesn’t have to participate in this if it doesn’t want to.”
A public meeting on the enterprise zone with local taxing districts is scheduled for late February. Resolutions could be up for consideration by Astoria, the Port, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners and Warrenton in March.
An enterprise zone application is due with the Oregon Business Development Department in April.