A test of willsOysterville seems to remind visitors of simpler, gentler times. That appearance has not always been easy to maintain.
The problem for the village in the 1970s, once it had become a National Historic District and the recipient of on-going publicity and attention, was how to preserve the essence of the place in the face of its inevitable growth. The historic district was too small to withstand much inappropriate change.
To that end, Oysterville property owners formed themselves into the Oysterville Restoration Foundation and then created the Oysterville Design Review Board. That board would pass approval on all construction - be it new building or remodeling job - proposed within the 80-acre historic district. The Board developed guidelines based on analysis of what made Oysterville, Oysterville - gable roofs of a certain steepness of pitch, wood construction, picket fences, etc.
The Design Review Board functions at the pleasure and under the authority of the commissioners of Pacific County. "Having a historic district is an honor in name only and does not, in itself, allow residents in the district to govern what types of construction will go on within them. Those in the Oysterville district were given such authority by the county commissioners through an ordinance at the residents' request," The Observer explained in September of 1979.
In the summer of 1979 the Oysterville Design Review Board faced its first serious challenge, the one that would make or break its authority.
"Members of the Oysterville Historic District Design Review Board will hold a public hearing on Saturday, July 28, at the Oysterville school to consider whether or not to allow the installation of a mobile home within the boundaries of the district.
"By special county ordinance, all modifications and new construction must be approved first by the design review board [for the] ... project's suitability within the National Historic District.
"County Historical Planner Larry Weathers said Lucille O'Keefe of Anchorage, Alaska, is requesting to install a mobile home on a parcel of land in the northwest corner of the Oysterville District boundary roughly across from the Oysterville store. One half of the property is within the district and the other half is located outside the boundary. Weathers said it appears that the mobile home cannot be installed on the half outside the district because it [the land] is too low."- (July 12, 1979).
The members of the design board voted late in July to deny Mrs. O'Keefe's request; she appealed the decision to the Pacific County commissioners who voted to deny her appeal.
(However, one commissioner, Eldred Pentilla, did suggest after the meeting that "those involved in the issue meet together and possibly redraw the boundaries of the district in such a way that would exclude Mrs. O'Keefe's property from the historic district." The Oysterville board met that thought with silence.)
The next inevitable step was an appeal to the courts.
"Pacific County Prosecutor Jeff Campiche said he expects to argue on Friday that establishment of the Oysterville Design Review Ordinance and board is a legal exercise of the commissioners' authority, according to the state constitution. This position is contrary to the contention of Mrs. Lucille O'Keefe of Alaska who has claimed in a suit against the county that the ordinance and board is of no legal force and that zoning restrictions cannot be enforced.
"She is also asking the Superior Court to overturn a Design Board ruling that she not be allowed to erect a mobile home on her property that is partially within the Oysterville district. ...
"Campiche, in his legal brief, claims that the state constitution, legislative action and previous court decisions have established that the county can establish and enforce land use zoning laws that also act to preserve the nature of historic buildings and areas."-(Dec. 6, 1979).
"Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge John H. Kirkwood has informed Pacific County by letter that he has ruled to deny Mrs. Lucille O'Keefe's motion for summary judgment against the county commissioners for allowing the formation of the Oysterville Historic District.
" 'I would call it a major victory for the county,' [Prosecuting Attorney Jeff] Campiche said.
- June 12, 1980
Today, Oysterville draws from seemingly everywhere visitors who sign the guest book in the church with comments appreciating the village's lack of artifice, its comfortable welcome, its visual charm. Oysterville is as it is because the Oysterville Restoration Foundation, the Oysterville Design Review Board, and the Pacific County commissioners stayed the hands of those who would have developed the community inappropriately.