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Although legislation took annexation approvals out of the hands of voters, Philomath still has a way to deny questionable applications with the addition of new code language.

It’s just one line within the annexation section of development code — “Annexation of property must be of benefit to the city and community of Philomath” — and the proposed language provides an opportunity for city leaders to give pause to an application.

“Annexation may be the last of the land-use processes where you can have very subjective, very discretionary criteria,” City Attorney Jim Brewer told Philomath city councilors during its Nov. 25 meeting. “Is it to the benefit of the community or not? It’s very subjective, so it’s not going to be that everyone necessarily will have the same understanding of what that means.”

The “benefit to the city” clause has been one of the more talked about components of proposed development code changes. The Planning Commission forwarded its recommended changes following months of meetings, work sessions, public hearings and an open house.

On separate votes of 4-1, councilors at their Nov. 25 meeting directed the city manager to prepare ordinances that will make those development and annexation code changes official.

The vagueness of the “benefit to the city” clause caused concern among a couple of councilors but Brewer told them “that’s OK in this context. For annexation, it can be subjective.”

City planners and councilors are required to go through a black-and-white process on various other criteria when it comes to making land-use decisions.

“I would argue that if that was the only criteria that the council was going to hang their hat on, I think that may be problematic for the city just because it will likely get challenged — not that we couldn’t defend it, but I think you’re putting a lot of weight there,” Workman said. “But what it does do is it allows the council to add other items to it that would in summation point to ‘we’re looking at this thing as a whole and it’s not a benefit to the city.’”

As councilor David Low pointed out, it requires developers to take a much closer look at their applications.

“By having this in there, the developer really has to consider public opinion more and they have to make a persuasive case that this is good — not just for the council, but for the community,” Low said. “It’s subjective, but it’s good subjective in that it gives us that out.”

Workman’s not opposed to the language.

“It’s not unique to Philomath ... this has been implemented in other code in other cities, so we’re not going out on a limb alone here,” Workman said. “I wouldn’t say it’s overly common, but it’s not uncommon criteria to have in your annexation code, so we’re not standing alone here.

“But it could be challenged and we’d have to defend it, which just means we’d have to have good reason for defending it,” he added.

Said councilor Doug Edmonds, “I think it takes more work, but I think more work is OK if it’s to the benefit to the city.”

Overall, the discussion on the proposed changes to the annexation section of the development code revolved around a review of procedures that reflect smart growth principles.

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“The intent here was to allow the city to request additional documentation from the applicant when they were coming in to annex a piece of property,” Workman said. “So we want to look at existing and future city services — water, sewer, drainage, transportation, transit, park, facilities, city staffing levels, police, public works and city administration. Current code limits us a little bit more ... this would allow us to really look at a much broader brush stroke of what the annexation application (impacts) would be on city services.”

Councilors spent most of the meeting combing through proposed code changes and adjusted language in many of them for clarification purposes.

According to a report prepared by City Planner Pat Depa, the development code changes outside of the annexation section involved “a list of specific concerns that have risen up over the past several years.” Fifteen amendment ideas were narrowed down to seven.

Municipal code updates were “to recognize changing standards within the community predominantly related to commercial and residential parking, manufactured home development standards, temporary storage, housing in the downtown commercial district, the validity of approved plans and preexisting approvals,” reads the staff report.

In addition, new code was proposed involving protection of the city’s existing tree canopy.

“Some of these code changes are to address the increase in development and to prevent any undesirable projects in the downtown that would throw off the city's Downtown Main Street Improvements Project,” Depa wrote in his report.

On both votes to direct city staff to prepare the appropriate ordinances, Ruth Causey, Edmonds, Low and Eric Niemann were in favor and Chas Jones voted against.

In other news from the Nov. 25 meeting:

• Pacific Power’s Celeste Krueger shared various types of information with the council, including ways to save money during the winter months.

• During public comments, four citizens spoke on topics that included the formation of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan Advisory Group, the timeline involving availability of meeting minutes and prior council packets, and a positive update on fewer motorists illegally passing school buses following an awareness campaign.

• The council approved a payment of $900 to the Philomath Housing Stability Fund at Philomath Community Services. The fund is dedicated to assisting Philomath households facing homelessness issues.

• The council approved a request by the city manager to apply for a Willamette Valley Visitors Association grant in cooperation with the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo.

• The council approved the removal of public right of way easements along an abandoned northern alignment between North 11th and North 12th streets and directed staff to proceed with all legal arrangements needed to secure a paved access along the southern alignment.

• The council approved a list of several people to serve on the 2040 Comprehensive Plan Technical Advisory Committee, including the addition of two planning commissioners. (See separate story).

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