The Corvallis City Council has approved a new land-use tool that aims to spark more public involvement in local developments.

Councilors voted 9-0 Tuesday at the downtown fire station to require pre-application neighborhood meetings for a lengthy list of development proposals. The vote echoes a Dec. 6 unanimous vote on the issue by the city’s Community Involvement and Diversity Advisory Board, although the Planning Commission rejected the concept Nov. 29 on a 6-1 vote.

Planning Commission members expressed concerns about making the meetings mandatory and noted that they might be a waste of time for projects that were not controversial in their neighborhoods.

“I want to thank the Planning Commission for their work even though I disagree with their assessment,” said Ward 6 Councilor Nancy Wyse. “I think the positives outweigh the negatives.”

Ward 7 Councilor Bill Glassmire voted “yes” but shared Planning Commission concerns about making the meetings mandatory and suggested that city staff might be able to waive the requirements in certain cases.

However, Jason Yaich of the planning division and City Manager Mark Shepard cautioned against that approach because of possible perceptions about “playing favorites” and making sure that the city’s policies are “clear and objective.”

Many developers already hold such meetings. Data supplied by the planning division at the council meeting indicated that between 2012 and 2017, 32 percent of developers seeking applications that would be covered by the new code did hold sessions with neighbors.

Two individuals testified in favor of the meetings requirement at the public hearing. Stewart Wershow, president of the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and a former Ward 6 councilor, said that the meetings will “help create better projects” and that the “short-term costs are outweighed by the long-term benefits.”

David Dodson, a veteran planning consultant, also testified and noted that the meetings “do not represent a huge cost.” Dodson estimated that such meetings cost a developer about $1,500 for the notices, room rental and organizing the presentation.

Shepard also released information noting strong improvement in library security issues. Spending $31,000 on two “security attendants” was authorized last year after a January incident in which a man used a baseball bat to injure two patrons.

The security detail works 36 of the 60 hours that the library is open per week, which includes most afternoons, evenings and weekends.

Data compiled by deputy library director Andrew Cherbas shows that suspensions dropped from 31 in the June-November period in 2016 to 14 in the same period this year. Calls to police fell from 22 to 13 and the “other incidents” total plunged from 38 to 11.

“I’m real proud of the work that Andrew and his group have done,” said library director Ashlee Chavez. “The situation has improved, and we’re able to be proactive rather than reactive. Staff morale has improved, and they can focus on helping members of the public."

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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