Philomath City Hall artwork

The Philomath Planning Commission spent an hour Monday night at City Hall pouring through proposed changes to annexation criteria language.

Among the suggested changes, commissioners opted to strike language that would lock in the zoning designation at the time of an annexation to 20 years.

Commissioner Jeannine Gay initially questioned the limit to kick off the conversation and commissioner Gary Conner pointed out that it "ties the hands of the city council" for that designated period of time.

As an example, City Manager Chris Workman mentioned the recent annexation of the rodeo grounds that were donated to the city. They came in zoned residential and if the proposed criteria had been in place, there would be no option to rezone it to public for at least two decades.

Workman said that past zone changes have all gone through the planning commission and city council with a "very public process" that includes public hearings.

"This would essentially eliminate that public process from even being able to take place for 20 years," Workman pointed out. "You do want to be careful about restricting future commissions and councils from being able to make decisions."

A few of the commissioners couldn't remember why the change had been proposed in the first place.

"I think there was a sentiment expressed that if something gets annexed in as industrial, it should stay industrial and we shouldn't allow it to change to residential," Workman said, thinking the conversation may have been tied to a situation involving Forest Meadows. "We need to know what it's going to come in as and we need to have some certainty whether it's going to stay."

There was a question posed from one commissioner about whether another number should be considered. Conner said there would be an effect with any number.

"If the population is upset about a decision and they elect a new city council to make a change, it's going to have no effect for whatever duration of time that you have in a restriction like this," he said. "They would have to go in and change the annexation criteria to make a change sooner. It's a hurdle against rapid changes and I have very mixed feelings about that. I think 20 years is too long ... I would fine with zero also."

For the sake of argument, Workman came up with another scenario of a developer who wants to put in beautiful, 7,000-square-foot lots. The annexation goes through and then the developer decides more money could be made if duplexes go on the property.

If the criteria proposal was added, then the developer couldn't even apply for a zoning change from low-density to high-density, for example. However, they would still have to go through the public process and Workman believes planning commissioners would take the original intent into consideration and could vote to deny the zoning change request.

"Again, I do think you need to rely on each other and future planning commissions to make good, reasonable decisions without tying their hands," Workman said.

Commissioner Lori Gibbs said there are other hurdles in the criteria and the time limit "isn't really that relevant, I don't think it's that helpful."

With that, Stein asked how many would like to remove it and the suggested change was scratched.

The commissioners also spent several minutes talking about criteria that would require an applicant to illustrate that an annexation would "benefit the city."

The annexation criteria language changes remain in draft form and the discussion will continue. The planning commission scheduled an open house for 6 p.m. April 15 to share information and listen to public comments.

Monday's meeting also included a public hearing on a variance application to allow a 6-foot fence in a front-yard setback at 115 S. 21st St. The property owner wants the fence to reduce noise and add privacy. City code currently limits fences in front yards to 4 feet.

Nobody testified in opposition, in support or as neutral at the hearing. The applicant and her contractor were on hand to offer explanations and answer questions.

Commissioners denied the request on a 5-0 vote (Gay abstained, Joseph Sullivan absent).

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