The Philomath City Council took its first steps down the long path of putting together recommendations for a 2040 Comprehensive Plan update.
During its Nov. 25 meeting, the council approved on a 4-1 vote to establish an 11-person volunteer technical advisory committee to assist with a review of a series of analyses to be completed by a professional planning consultant.
“This technical advisory committee’s going to be reviewing the reports as the consultant’s completing them, giving it another set of eyes, giving recommendations, putting out ideas and in the end, it’ll all be added to the report,” City Manager Chris Workman said.
A comprehensive plan identifies goals and serves as a tool for planning the future growth of a community. The TAC’s work will become part of a report that goes to the Planning Commission and City Council to help form the policies that will make up the comp plan update.
With development being such a hot-button issue over the past several months and transparency often mentioned during public comment periods, councilors seemed to be very concerned about public participation.
“It’s my understanding that the TAC will review what the contractor or hired researcher will do and ask questions about it,” Councilor Doug Edmonds said. “Once they’re done, that’s kind of the end of their role. ... All through that process, there will be public hearings and ample opportunity for public input.”
The TAC will not be a decision-making group with its scope limited to reviewing the consultant’s technical reports.
Councilor David Low asked if all viewpoints will be represented, including those that do not want to see Philomath grow so quickly.
“This is the first step in a pretty long process and I think there’s a feeling that we don’t want to basically say, ‘the fix is in and we’re not going to be able to have real input,’” Low said.
According to a staff report produced by Workman, the city would “host multiple meetings, including hearings, open houses, town halls, round tables and other outreach to minority and underrepresented segments of the population to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate.”
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During the public comments portion of the meeting, citizen Sandy Heath, who arrived at the meeting wearing a sign encouraging transparency, advocated for citizen involvement and had expressed interest in serving on the committee. Heath said she would like to see an open process with how TAC members are chosen. Another local, Robert Biscoe, raised concerns with the formation of the group.
Councilor Chas Jones later in the meeting expressed concern about the “optics and perception of the list that’s presented here as being chosen by the city versus having folks apply, similar to the various committees that the city fills.”
However, the City Council had previously agreed to direct Workman to move forward with selecting a slate of candidates.
The nine individuals that had agreed to serve on the committee include Helen Bennett, Mike Bussard, Craig Hendricks, Alyssa Lewis, Bethany Longwell, Bill Mayer, Sandy McHenry, Troy Muir and Pat VanRooyen.
Members of the Planning Commission expressed the desire to play a role on the TAC. Commissioner Peggy Yoder asked councilors to consider removing three of the nine recommended candidates while adding three planning commissioners to keep the committee at the same number.
During the discussion later in the meeting, Workman said he would see no problems with adding two or three commissioners to the group and mentioned that he’s “not married to the number nine” as far as size.
Councilor Ruth Causey made a motion to accept the nine individuals listed plus planning commissioners David Stein and Yoder to increase the TAC to 11. The 4-1 outcome included yes votes from Causey, Edmonds, Low and Eric Niemann with a no vote by Jones. Councilor Matthew Thomas was absent and one council seat is vacant.
Workman said the comp plan update process will go on for several months.
“Just the data collection alone you’re looking at — six months is a dream, it’s probably closer to nine to 12 — before you’re really going to start engaging the public with these ideas and recommendations,” he said.
The consultant will be hired to produce four reports: economic opportunities analysis, buildable lands inventory, housing needs analysis and Main Street plan. The reports will be completed one after the other and not all at once, Workman said.
Once the council gives the reports and updated policies its final approval, they will be sent to the Department of Land Conservation and Development for review. If compliant, the process moves toward approval with a council vote by way of an ordinance.
Workman said the TAC could gather for the first time as early as January or February. Early meetings typically include discussions on roles and responsibilities and how the process proceeds moving forward.