An Albany real estate appraiser who wants to build an RV park, storage units and industrial flex space on a former mill site faced a barrage of questions July 15 during a Philomath Planning Commission public hearing.
Scott Lepman, who also has a hand in several other business interests including storage units in Corvallis and the Blue Ox RV Park in Albany, laid out his plans for the commissioners.
“We’re excited about this project. It’s been a long time preparing and I think the application that we’ve prepared is very thorough and significant and probably a lot to consume,” Lepman said.
Most of the commissioners at the meeting appeared to agree with that statement and before Lepman had taken the mic decided on a 3-1 vote to continue the public hearing at 6 p.m. July 29. The record remains open and the public may submit written testimony until the hearing date.
Lepman wants to build a 175-space recreational vehicle park, a 19,363-square-foot industrial flex space building to attract businesses and a self-storage complex that would feature 150,000 square feet of space and could include an open area for RVs and boats.
The RV park, with main access off North 19th Street, would feature a 7,088-square-foot community center area with a two nearby viewing platforms close to Newton Creek. A bike-pedestrian path and dog park are also part of the plans.
Lepman gave a short presentation and he and his team fielded questions from commissioners for about 52 minutes. Commissioner Peggy Yoder was especially inquisitive and through her questioning, brought out a more specific vision of the RV park.
“We anticipate there will be a lot of influence for this RV park from Oregon State,” Lepman said. “There’s also people that would stay there not long-term but I would say two to six months — construction workers, people who are here temporarily on a job assignment or something like that.”
There would be no time limits on how long an RV’er could stay, which prompted commissioner David Stein to say, “It sounds as though, in point of fact, a lot of your spaces will be taken up by new permanent residents of Philomath.”
“That could happen, yes,” Lepman replied.
“So basically, if it were to happen, it would be a trailer park,” Stein said.
Lepman said his RV park might be an option for those trying to live in the area where they work. He added that there would be a screening process, including a background check, involved for those who wish to stay there.
“Considering the apparent number of expected long-term residents, do you have any population estimates, estimates on the number of children that would have to go to school, effects on public service — fire, police, things like that?” Stein asked. “Because really, it seems to me that a lot of what you’re proposing are basically a new set of perhaps 200, maybe more, residents of Philomath would live here all the time and have effects on all of those things.”
Commissioner Joseph Sullivan mentioned Philomath’s 1999 comprehensive plan and specifically, the economic section which lists policies and guidelines to follow.
“Based on my reading of the comprehensive plan, there’s not enough information for us to make a decision about whether this would be primarily attracting tourists or primarily providing, as an unintended consequence, substandard housing,” Sullivan said. “In a nutshell, that’s kind of my primary concern here.”
That facet of the project — getting down to what to expect with the RV park — was brought up in various ways through the nearly 60 minutes of testimony from the public. Several comments from 13 citizens who spoke revolved around water and utility rates, infrastructure, traffic and the former mill property’s environmental status. Philomath’s high taxes and wetlands/threatened species were also brought up.
A couple of those who testified referred to the hundreds and hundreds of pages that can be found on the city’s website. One resident, Catherine Biscoe, printed out 600-plus pages and held them up to give commissioners a visual while making the point that a lot of information must be digested and scrutinized before taking a vote.
Resident Jeff Lamb didn’t mince words on his viewpoints of what he said is basically a “small city” and a project that would destroy the community’s identify.
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“We had an election last year and the election was about we’ve had enough, enough, enough," Lamb said. “Philomath’s not for sale.”
Another local resident, Sandy Heath, talked about how the project would threaten the various levels of infrastructure.
“Myself and other like-minded community members do not take the position of anti-growth in Philomath, however, we do also do not promote gentrification,” Heath said. “What we are pushing for is to grow Philomath sensibly and sustainably.”
Tim Wenger, a resident who lives near the site spoke as a proponent at the hearing and said the project would benefit Philomath because he believes it would be a well-run RV park, provide jobs and help with housing options.
Lepman brought several individuals from his consulting team to answer questions, including Allen Martin, wetlands consultant; Brian Vandetta, civil engineer; Don Johnson, architect; Candace Ribera, development coordinator; and Karl Birky, traffic engineer.
Four of the seven planning commissioners were at the meeting with Sullivan, Stein, Yoder and Steve Boggs. Jeannine Gay, Lori Gibbs and Gary Conner were unable to be in attendance.
After listening to the public testimony, Lepman said that he was not particularly aware of most of the issues brought up, including water supply and cost.
“I think what we’ll do is get some information from the existing RV park and talk about that,” he said in reference to the continuation of the meeting on July 29.
Sullivan and Stein both talked about what the city must do legally when it comes to the approval or denial of the Lepman applications. Both said they understand as citizens themselves the issues that their neighbors brought up during the meeting, but basically that their hands are tied.
“I wanted to make one thing very clear. We have a specific problem that we are required by law to do in a certain way with respect to this decision,” Sullivan said, who followed with a short history of how land-use rules were established. “For better or worse, it’s not just a kind of open democracy sort of thing — do I like it or do you like it and do we think this is any good? We have to actually make this decision according to a set of guidelines which were written unfortunately in 1999, which is our comprehensive plan.”
Sullivan pointed folks to that comprehensive plan as a resource that they could review.
“The decision that’s going to be made in regard to this proposal is going to be made in accordance with the documents that we already approved as a city decades ago,” he added. “Unfortunately that’s just the way it is; there’s no way to change that right now.”
Stein also referred to city code that must be followed when making decisions.
“Our decisions have to be based on facts, real facts, not for instance, ‘we all know traffic is bad and it’s going to get worse.’ I believe it, but I don’t have the evidence,” he said. “If we don’t have the evidence, then it makes it extremely difficult for us to argue either for or against an issue.”
Stein said one reason for the public record being held open for another two weeks is so the public can come back with hard facts.
“I can’t stress that enough,” he said. “We can’t make decisions based on opinions; we have to have facts.”
To conclude the meeting, Stein urged people to return to the July 29 hearing. It seems likely that another significant turnout will jam into City Hall with someone in the audience replying, “Oh, we’ll be here.”
In other business from the July 15 meeting, commissioners voted to approve the annexation criteria changes that they had decided upon. The meeting also paused for a moment of silence in memory of former city planner Jim Minard, who died July 10.