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Elementary my dear… Locals fight slippery slope of ‘rural gentrification’


Observer columnist

Published on August 8, 2017 3:52PM

In 1964, before gentrification, blackberries still grew in redolent profusion along the roads of Oysterville. As pavement proliferates and the untamed corners of Pacific County recede, is our rural character diminishing?

Photo by Bill LaRue©1964

In 1964, before gentrification, blackberries still grew in redolent profusion along the roads of Oysterville. As pavement proliferates and the untamed corners of Pacific County recede, is our rural character diminishing?

In Chinook, it was sidewalks. In Long Beach, it was huge planters and pocket parks. More recently, in Ocean Park, a walking/bicycle path paralleling the highway. Bit by bit the rough-and-ready character of the Peninsula is giving way to what some call “rural rustic.” In urban planning circles in the Big City, it is called “gentrification” and it’s controversial.

Gentrification. I don’t know that I had paid much attention to that word until shortly after I moved to the Peninsula full-time back in the 70s. Oysterville had become a National Historic District and the residents were on a mission to make its appearance commensurate with its new, dignified status.

The old collapsing sheds and outbuildings disappeared. The blackberries along the road were pulled out and, in their place, daffodils were planted. The grassy lanes were suddenly given quaint looking street signs — “Clay,” “Merchant,” and “Division.” And the residents began to feel conflicted.

On the one hand, they were proud of the village and its heritage and wanted to show it off to all and sundry. On the other hand, there was the vague feeling that the tidying up was a sort of betrayal to the generations who had gone before. They had been hard-working folks — family-minded and practical. Blackberries along the roads were there for picking. Daffodils… not so much. They seemed to be for show. Maybe not for the residents, but more for the visitors who were arriving in ever increasing numbers.

In the beginning

Gentrification is a term coined by a British sociologist back in the 1960s to describe the changes happening in certain areas of inner London — traditional working-class housing being invaded by the middle class. Once the process began in a district, it progressed rapidly. Soon blue-collar workers were displaced en masse in one district after another and the whole social character of an area was changed.

The phenomenon (and its label) spread — first to major cities worldwide and, by the early 2000s, to suburbia and beyond. Now the term “rural gentrification” has begun to gain purchase in regions such as ours. Areas far distant from metropolitan centers are beginning to feel the push of gentrification, slightly different from what our urban friends and relatives are feeling, but potentially as devastating to our way of life.

Nowadays, the possibilities afforded by telecommuting and e-commerce are fast leading to the “footloose” and “placeless” nature of work. In turn, slowly, across America and in areas nearly as remote as ours, a smattering of bucolic college towns, action sports meccas, and colonial-era hamlets have grown up, centered on recreational or cultural ideas. Smaller venues, like the McMenamins complexes, have blossomed in unlikely places with resounding success. But do we want them in our own backyard?

For some months now, the Pacific County Planning Commission has been wrestling with a proposed zoning change — a change that could potentially impact the look and feel of our area forever more. It’s not called “rural gentrification,” of course, but you know the old adage — looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck… Specifically, under consideration are amendments to our zoning regulations “to allow Small-Scale Recreation and Tourist Uses in designated rural areas of Pacific County.” Behind the proposals is Craig Tillotson of Leadbetter Farms — the 100-acre private development at the north end of the Peninsula which is notorious locally for its faux lighthouse.

Trendy choices

It wasn’t until I glanced at the list of suggestions — not intended to be exhaustive but rather is intended to be illustrative of the types of small-scale recreation or tourist uses — that I began to feel somewhat alarmed. Among the “non-exhaustive” list of some two dozen examples are: aerial recreational activities such as drone use, glider and parachute events; animal preserves and game farms; equestrian centers; rural restaurants and brewpubs; wineries, microbreweries and distilleries; outdoor shooting and archery ranges. And my personal favorite (NOT) – unnamed small-scale recreational or tourist uses. (Doesn’t that cover just about anything?)

My first thought: There goes the neighborhood! Or in this case, there goes any hope we might have of hanging onto the vestiges of our rural character. All those acres and acres of woods and meadows and swampy bottomlands to say nothing of the agricultural lands that frame the geographic character of our county. And, why is one part-time resident millionaire’s desire to enhance his property being given such serious consideration by our Pacific County Department of Community Development? Why has his desire to turn his faux lighthouse into living space segued into a rezone proposal for the entire county?

Many other questions come to mind. Should tourism be the major thrust of our county? Would such a mammoth change in direction be the answer to the county’s budgetary woes? And is money to be the ultimate driving force in Pacific County or does heritage and quality of life still count for something? Or maybe I am misunderstanding.

Public hearing

Last Thursday, was the Planning Commission’s final hearing on the matter. Ultimately, of course, the decision will rest with our elected officials, the three Pacific County commissioners. Whether or not the recommendation of the Planning Commission or the wishes of the residents will count with them is a matter for conjecture. At Thursday’s meeting, though, the public left no room for conjecture as to what their wishes might be. They were there in force — had to vacate the regular meeting room at the Long Beach County Building and go to the courtroom, instead.

Twenty of the 100 or so people in attendance had signed up to give testimony. Under consideration: should the uses of land in Pacific County now zoned RR (Rural Residential) and RL (Rural Lands be expanded and changed? Not one person who spoke was in favor. Their opposition was clear and their concerns covered the gamut — habitat, aquifer, shoreline management, water rights, crass commercialism were just a few of the topics covered individuals and representatives of various community organizations!

Their words were eloquent, their concerns straight-forward, their reasoning clear. But it all boiled down to the same thing: not in my backyard. I hope the county commissioners pay attention when it’s their turn to listen.


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