The prospect of a 159-acre annexation into the city evokes various degrees of emotion in Philomath residents.
During a packed public hearing June 20 at City Hall with the planning commission, opinions were shared on several facets of what is known as the Chapel Drive LLC plan to develop the property and build homes.
A couple residents favored the idea and its possibilities for the community, but most spoke as opponents of the annexation with concerns ranging from water and traffic impacts to population increases. A fear of the unknown also surfaced with several wanting to know exactly how the development will appear prior to an annexation vote this fall.
“The exact configuration of the actual residential hasn’t been worked out at this time,” said Ben Williams, a senior manager with DOWL, the engineering firm associated with the project. “However, we’ve come with the general site plan that illustrates where that housing would be incorporated as well as preserving the natural features and existing dwellings that are on the site.”
Williams said the project area features 110 developable acres with the potential for a maximum of 660 homes to be constructed in multiple phases over several years.
“It is a very large parcel of land but it isn’t something that’s going to be developed in a short period of time, it’s long term,” said Mike Agee, a developer representing the applicant. “It’s just basically asking for that boundary to bring the city land in so it can be developed over a 10 or 15-year period of time to add housing to the community as it’s needed.”
The planning commission, which is chaired by Jacque Lusk and includes Patrick McDonald, Gabe Callaway, Mark Knutson and Jeannie Gay, advanced the issue to the city council, which will hold a public hearing July 11.
Chapel Drive LLC currently owns the property and Millersburg Land and Development LLC is the annexation applicant. Documents show Adam, Deana and Justin Lowther as property owners.
“We don’t own the land, we haven’t bought it,” Agee said. “We have an option to purchase the land and we have an option to purchase it over 10 years’ time. So we’re not looking to come in here and do a total purchase of the property.”
Request for assurances
Local resident Rick Flacco said he’s not opposed to development but doesn’t believe in “blind development without assurances" and that the proposal “to me, sits on a bed of sand.”
“This proposed plan is clearly not factual, could change at any moment,” Flacco said while referencing a conceptual map from the applicant. “This to me carries as much weight as a diagram written on the back of a napkin. … To not have a solid plan in place for what the voters are actually voting on to me at best seems arbitrary.”
The property is situated north of Chapel Drive, east of the high school and middle school campuses, and Philomath City Park, south of Applegate Street residences that stretch from 24th to 30th Street, and west of residences on South 30th from Applegate to beyond Southwood Drive.
Jeff Lamb talked to the commission about lessons from the past involving the former mill property and how plans changed after an annexation occurred. Lamb urged the city to relieve doubt up front with details on phases and planned unit developments while confirming that the developers don’t want the annexation only to turn around, sell it and leave town.
“When they tell you they want to do this for affordable housing, I applaud them as long as that’s gold and on the other end, we get that,” Lamb said. “But there’s a lot more I think you need to demand from people that come before you on saying what they mean, mean what they say, go with planned unit developments and then they can’t bait and switch.”
In a rebuttal period at the meeting, Williams said the fundamentals of the plan are in place.
“The city has a comprehensive plan and what goes onto this property … This land has been on the comprehensive plan to be R1 (residential) with five acres of it to be C1 commercial,” Williams said. “This is already in your comprehensive plan. Your plans are telling us what we can do on this site.”
Agee said it’s going to be residential housing and the issue needs to go through the process.
“If it gets annexed, it’s not going to be anything else,” Agee said. “That’s our intention to develop. … We know in the process, Phase 1 is annexation. The property needs to be annexed before large sums can be spent to try and figure out on how you come up with a final design on what’s going to be there. We know it’s going to be residential housing, that’s what it’s zoned for.”
Many expressed fear over what the impacts would be to the community’s population and felt the estimated increase of 1,788 residents based on 2.71 persons per dwelling at total build-out as presented in the city's staff report was too low.
Chris Nusbaum, who served as Philomath mayor the last time this same property was proposed for annexation, testified in favor of the project.
“There’s no such thing as healthy stagnation and my concern is that Philomath may be heading down that route,” Nusbaum said. “Philomath is going to grow whether we like it or not. People want to live here, Philomath is too strategically located. We’re an hour from the coast, an hour from the mountains. … I don’t think we can keep Philomath from growing but we can control what type of growth Philomath will endure.”
On ballot in 2005-06
Philomath voted down annexation efforts involving the same land owner in 2005 and 2006.
“This is sort of like déjà vu all over again,” resident David Stein said. “The identical land was turned down for annexation twice. It was voted down resoundingly because it doesn’t make sense for Philomath.”
Stein expressed concerns over the impact on tax rates and also stressed the importance of knowing final details on the developer’s plans before voting on the annexation.
“Annexing the land before the developers have a firm, proposed plan for it eliminates the strongest argument the city residents have to control one-way development,” Stein said. “Once that land is annexed, then what? You don’t even know what you’re annexing.”
Another resident, Mark Dorr, also expressed issues with unknowns associated with the development’s design, in particular a bike path that could go on either side of Newton Creek where he owns property, as well as the scope of its size.
“I’m not against development per se, I’m just wondering why it has to be so large?” Dorr said. “Why can’t the annexation be dealing with just Phase I, for example? Why don’t we wait until these 16 or 17 homes are constructed … and see how those properties are sold and developed and how families move in and then after we have all that information, perhaps look at a Phase I annexation.”
Concerns over traffic
Traffic impacts were also brought up by several at the meeting, including Gordon Kurtz, a Benton County engineering consultant. Representing the county, Kurtz said he neither supports nor opposes the annexation request, but admitted the county has issues with the traffic impact analysis referenced in the paperwork.
“In truth, I think the major point that I want to make is that the last traffic impact analysis that was made … was prepared 11 years ago and not only have the demographics of the region changed significantly since then, but there also has been a good deal of planning organizational structural change in that period of time also,” Kurtz said. “Relying on a traffic impact analysis that was prepared 11 years ago seems — I don’t want to say short-sighted, but I don’t think is thorough enough, let’s put it that way.”
According to Kurtz, planning commission members should have received a five-page memo from Valerie Grigg Devis, senior regional transportation planner with the Oregon Department of Transportation, that made an appeal to require the applicant to use an updated traffic impact analysis.
Williams said transportation connections would be made to the existing system.
“There’s been existing stubs that have been stubbed out to this property from previous developments,” he said. “This plan respects all of the work that’s been done in the past and shows connections to those stubbed out streets that were completed in previous projects where a lot of these neighbors currently live.”
What about water?
The debate over impacts to Philomath’s water supply was a theme throughout the evening.
Nusbaum sees no concerns on the water issue with the Marys River, 11th Street well and the Rock Creek intertie agreement with Corvallis. Nusbaum said Rock Creek could also be reverse-pumped to obtain water from the Willamette River.
“That’s four sources of potable water — we have that base covered,” Nusbaum said.
Not everyone saw it that way, however, including local resident May Dasch, who voiced specific issues with the city’s water supply options and offered the conclusion that “the city’s unpredictable water sources … eventually may not be able to furnish even an adequate supply to current residents and to annexed properties as yet undeveloped.
"Unfortunately, sizable future annexation such as the Chapel Drive LLC has the potential for creating a long-term water shortage for all of Philomath," she added.
Mark Weiss, who recently retired after 40 years in education, has concerns about impacts on public services.
“All the research about education says small is beautiful, schools do better when they’re small not when they’re large,” he said. “The smaller they get, the more effective they are at bringing graduation rates. … I think that also when you live in cities, crime increases when population increases. … This creates a need for more police, more fire and rescue along with all the other services … and all citizens are paying for this.”
Weiss also said it “concerns me that the developers are not from our community. I personally don’t trust and don’t think you should trust that they will keep the community’s best interests in mind.”
Resident David Low believes the proposal would work for Philomath.
“This type of development, I think, is essential for the continuing growth and prosperity and just proper culture really for the community here,” Low said. “You really have to grow. The city isn’t in a position where it just can’t have people moving in.”
Williams referred to the city’s master plan and studies that have taken water, sewer, transportation and storm drainage impacts into account.
“Our intent is to conform to those master plans,” he said. “So there’s a plan that’s already been established by the city and they’re providing us the guardrails on what the project needs to do to meet those city requirements.”
Nusbaum mentioned the multiple-unit housing trend seen in neighboring Corvallis and on a smaller scale in Philomath. He said such housing promotes growth but doesn’t lend to the family-friendly composition of a community.
“My big concern is if we do not provide affordable housing for the city of Philomath, Philomath will start taking on the characteristics that is currently experienced by Corvallis,” Nusbaum said. “Every single home torn down is replaced by a duplex or a triplex or some kind of multiple-unit living. I’m concerned because I’ve seen it happening in Philomath.”
Gay, who has experience with city planning, talked about what is known as “Goal 10” in the state’s planning goals and guidelines for communities. Philomath’s comprehensive plan cites “Goal 10,” which mandates that communities plan for housing that meets the needs of households at all income levels.
Gay’s point was that the high-end needs are met, but not those of younger people in lower income brackets.
“Why everybody is so concerned about the infrastructure, I understand, but you have to realize to build something like this for low-income people to come in — for young people, I’m emphasizing. Not folks like you because you already have your homes like I have,” Gay said. “But you must realize that we have young people to think about and the schools and your businesses and everything else that goes along with housing.”
On the subject of the 17-home development already located in the city limits, Agee said he expects construction to begin within the next 30 to 45 days.