The Philomath City Council approved the second reading of an ordinance Wednesday night to annex 19.88 acres of land into the city during a meeting that attracted about 25 citizens and lasted just under 8 minutes.
The property borders the city limits and is located in the urban growth boundary beyond the northern terminus of North 12th Street. The ordinance’s second reading passed on a roll-call count of 6-1 with mayor-elect and current councilor Eric Niemann voting nay.
The city council had also voted 6-1 on the annexation ordinance at its Dec. 10 meeting but since it was not unanimous, a second reading vote was required. Councilor Jerry Jackson asked that a second meeting be held this month so the current city council could vote it through.
Four new councilors will be taking their seats in January after they are sworn in, a group that includes individuals that have expressed opposition to land-use issues. Although this vote was strictly about an annexation, applicants Levi Beelart and Kathy Hensman along with engineer William Patton shared a conceptual plan to build 45 to 55 single-family homes on the property.
The council did not accept any more public testimony on the matter at Wednesday’s meeting. Public hearings on the annexation application were held before the planning commission Oct. 22 and the city council Nov. 13. The record was held open until Nov. 27 to allow for additional written testimony.
Resident Jeff Lamb, who unsuccessfully attempted to speak at the meeting, wrote a letter to current and future councilors that expressed fears that Philomath “can be held legally liable for the illegal destruction of endangered species habitats on private lands that are annexed” into the city.
Lamb’s letter shared information that he collected on the issue and he was not alone with those concerns. The city council had also received a letter via email from another citizen that showed concern over issues related to the Endangered Species Act.
Councilor David Low asked Amy Cook, deputy city attorney, for clarification on possible liability issues in regards to the land transferring from Benton County to the city.
“Anything that may have been done on that property, if it’s determined to be some sort of environmental issue or whatever and it was done when it was part of the county, it would not become a liability for the city,” Cook said.
Passage of the ordinance does not immediately annex the property into the city with the action not taking effect for 30 days.
Niemann shared with the council and audience of additional responsibilities that a development applicant faces during the process.
“It is the responsibility of the applicant to determine if wetlands are present on the property and to contact the appropriate state and federal permitting agencies prior to applying for a development permit from the city,” Niemann said. “So I think that may also address some of the environmental concerns that will be addressed during the development phase.”
The only other business of the night for the city council was to approve minutes from the previous meeting.