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Woodburn challenges Marion County's COVID-19 isolation center plans, citing the city's land-use laws

PMG FILE: PHIL HAWKINS - People gather near Super 8 Motel in Woodburn on Thursday, Jume 25, to protest Marion Countys plans for a COVID-19 isolation facility at the site.The city of Woodburn will challenge Marion County's plans to install a COVID-19 isolation center at a Super 8 Motel on the basis of the city's land-use code.

During a special meeting held Thursday, June 25, Woodburn City Council President Robert Carney moved that "the City Council authorize city staff to initiate against Marion County whatever enforcement action is necessary, up to and including litigation, to ensure that Marion County is in compliance with the Woodburn land-use regulations applicable to 821 Evergreen Road."

The council unanimously approved the motion.

On Wednesday, June 24, the county approved a contract with BP Hospitality LLC for use of the Super 8 as a place where county residents, exposed to COVID-19 or showing mild symptoms and who are unable to self-isolate due to living conditions, could stay for up to 14 days.

The quarantine plan is a requirement of all counties to maintain Phase 2 reopening status as directed by the governor's office.

During Thursday's teleconference meeting, Woodburn city councilors appeared to be miffed at what they viewed as a dismissive attitude to their body by the county. They spoke at length about the lack of communication and knowledge of developments leading up to the isolation center site and contract.

City personnel, including the city administrator, police chief and community development director did have conversations with the county, although they felt it was relatively late in the planning process.

Woodburn Community Development Director Chris Kerr said county officials answered many of the questions he put before them, but ignored the most important one. He said he asked the county how the center's proposed use would fit into the city's zoning code.

"The most important aspect of this is they did not respond to the most important question (our correspondence posed) — to specify how they believe they would still be operating as a hotel use, which is an allowable use in that district," Kerr said. "Because as I expressed to them, it appeared to me that the use they were proposing would no longer fit into the common understanding of what a hotel is."

During its Wednesday commission meeting, county officials appeared to be in legal standing with their isolation facility decision based on the declared state of emergency due to COVID-19, which the county instituted in March.

On Thursday Woodburn countered, citing land-use codes.PMG FILE: PHIL HAWKINS - People gather near Super 8 Motel in Woodburn on Thursday, Jume 25, to protest Marion Countys plans for a COVID-19 isolation facility at the site.

"We have heard our community's overwhelming concerns over the lack of transparency and opportunities for public involvement in Marion County's siting of a COVID-19 isolation shelter in Woodburn," City Administrator Scott Derickson said. "But more so, the city finds the county's facility to be in violation of current land-use law and illegal to operate at its current location.

"The city is obligated to enforce its laws regardless of who may be in violation. We hope this matter can be resolved quickly and amenably."

The contract had undergone examination by the county's contract review board.

Marion County Counsel Jane Vetto advised the commissioners on Wednesday that they were empowered to authorize the contract.

"On March 16, 2020, the board of commissioners formally declared a state of emergency in the county due to the COVID pandemic. As part of that resolution, they resolved that emergency procurements of goods and services are authorized under (Oregon law)," Vetto said. "This contract fits within that statute. … And this procurement is pursuant to your emergency powers."

Following Woodburn's challenge on Thursday, Vetto said: "Our office can't comment on potential or pending litigation."

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