Corvallis residents filled the downtown fire station meeting room’s seats, lined the walls and extruded into an overflow room with a television as the latest episode of city land-use wars played out.
The City Council held a special meeting with just one agenda item Monday night, a public hearing on a proposed annexation of 118 acres into the city’s stock of land. The “general land use plan” of property owner David Lin’s Marys Annexation notes that at least 1,000 units of housing could be built on the property north and east of the West Hills-53rd Street roundabout.
Opponents of the plan, meanwhile, assert that the total number of units is more likely to exceed 2,000, possibly adding 5,000 residents — or a Philomath — to the city’s population.
Unlike the Alabama-Georgia national championship college football game, however, there was no final outcome Monday night. Because of requests to hold the record open and a possible court-influenced new approach by the city to its annexation policies, councilors will not deliberate on the annexation until their Feb. 5 meeting.
Also at that Feb. 5 meeting, councilors will discuss possibly abandoning their challenge to SB 1573, a state law signed by Gov. Kate Brown in March 2016 that limits voter-approved annexations. Corvallis led the way on requiring ballot measures on land acquisitions, passing a measure in 1976.
Corvallis, along with Philomath and the League of Oregon Cities, appealed the new law, claiming that it was a violation of the “home rule” aspect of the Corvallis city charter. Corvallis allowed one annexation, of five lots on Northeast Lawndale Place, to go forward after Brown signed 1573. Voters approved the annexation, which was driven by health-related septic tank issues, in November 2016.
A memo on the annexation conundrum from City Attorney Jim Brewer was included in the council packet for the Marys Annexation (see the full text online). Brewer concluded that “state law currently prohibits the city from submitting annexation proposals to the voters.”
Brewer noted that the city could face lawsuits from residents if it chose to send annexations to the voters … and might even face legal risk if it did not.
Mayor Biff Traber briefly discussed the issue at the beginning of Monday’s meeting and noted that the council will address it Feb. 5 before it deliberates on the Marys Annexation or the two other annexations it is scheduled to consider that night. One involves expansion at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and another, Caldwell Farms, could add more housing west of the roundabout.
The council has set public hearings on Good Sam and Caldwell Farms for Jan. 16.
Monday night’s Marys Annexation hearing featured nearly 150 minutes of public testimony, with five individuals testifying in favor of the plan and 37 more either speaking solo or ceding their time to others. One gentleman stood ready to give neutral testimony but chucked the idea and left when he realized that he was waiting in line behind the other 40-plus speakers.
Lin, his associates and proponents said that the plan would provide needed housing for Corvallis, which has a microscopic vacancy rate and a low stockpile of available land for housing.
Opponents cited transportation and safety issues, particularly on West Hills Road and nearby Timian Avenue; outdated city planning documents; a time schedule that made public involvement difficult; school capacity challenges; compatibility issues with the neighborhoods to the south and west; wetlands, stream flows and other environmental issues; and who would pay for — and coordinate — the infrastructure required to service the new development.
Many of those who testified against the project said they appreciated Lin’s outreach to the neighbors and said they could support the plan but not until the infrastructure challenges have been met.
“We should have started the planning process for infrastructure earlier,” said Timian resident Claire Pate. “That’s what we wish. We’re behind the 8-ball here. Let’s give this one a bit more time.”
Speaking of time, the meeting was entering its fifth hour amid rebuttals and surrebuttals as the Gazette-Times presstime approached.