It might’ve been the longest meeting I’ve covered in 33 years as a newspaper editor and reporter. The Philomath City Council’s discussion on the Scott Lepman development went deep into the night this past Tuesday and in the end, it gained approval on a 4-1 vote with one abstaining and one seat vacant.
This week’s drive include stops that have connections to approved development — Lepman’s RV park and The Boulevard Apartments, where I attended a ribbon-cutting on Thursday afternoon.
Let’s get on with the drive.
First stop — Philomath City Hall
State law mandates that municipalities must make final decisions on development applications within a 120-day window of time. The city needed to make a decision on the Lepman development, which includes a 175-space RV park, industrial flex space and storage facilities, by Nov. 14.
“It’s kind of like the right to a speedy trial for a defendant,” City Manager Chris Workman explained. “As a property owner, you have a legal right to submit an application for development of your property and have some type of process, some type of time frame to get an answer on your land-use application. In Oregon, it’s 120 days.”
With the deadline two days away, councilors couldn’t really table the discussion and take it up again later in the month unless Lepman would’ve agreed to an extension.
I asked Workman if he feels that the council was “under the gun” to get it all wrapped up Tuesday night.
“I think it’s just good to realize that we’re at the end of that additional time that we were given to make the land-use (decision), so I wouldn’t say we were under the gun. We were just in time,” Workman said.
The project had already been extended already early on.
“They extended that once because we had a first public hearing with the Planning Commission scheduled and they weren’t prepared and had some changes they wanted to make to their application, so they requested that they reschedule that hearing,” Workman said. “One of the conditions of rescheduling from the city was that they were going to have to waive 120 days or at least extend it to give us more time to get through all of our planning process.”
The 120-day time period includes the entire process — public hearings before the Planning Commission, potential review time that’s needed, an appeal (which did happen), keeping the record open and so on. Workman said that’s all great, because there was additional time for public comments. At the same time, the council didn’t have the luxury of having more than a couple of meetings for review.
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“They had one meeting, they left the record open for a week, they left an additional week for rebuttal of anything that had been submitted and they gave the applicant one final week to submit their final report or their final comments and then that lined up with this meeting this evening,” Workman said at around 12:50 a.m. Wednesday.
The time spent and the paperwork produced makes it one of the most scrutinized projects that’s ever gone through City Hall.
“The fact it went through the Planning Commission and the appeal and the City Council and it went through multiple meetings and a marathon of a meeting tonight to get through all of the approvals, I think it reflects on the size and the complexity of the project,” Workman said. “It’s three different site plans, the master plan overlay, the variance and the conditional use, so yeah, it was a very big and complicated development proposal.
“At the same time, it was pages and pages and pages provided by the applicant showing all of the documentation that they needed,” he added. “As the staff report stated, they provided enough information to show that they met the criteria that’s in our development code.”
Final stop — The Boulevard Apartments
Back during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting, the issue of affordable housing came up and someone threw out that The Boulevard Apartments were charging $1,900 per month for rent and then a second person made reference to that figure during his public comments. And they’re right, paying that much for rent would not fall under what could reasonably be called “affordable housing” — at least not in Philomath.
This afternoon, I was in attendance at a chamber ribbon-cutting event at The Boulevard Apartments. First, let me say, these folks have an upscale type of residential community in place with some top-notch amenities. I went on a tour of a typical two-bedroom apartment and I’ll pass along that they appear to my eye to have been made with the best of materials.
But I wondered, even with these very cool amenities and new, well-made apartments, is it worth $1,900 per month? From what I found out, the rental prices range from $1,125 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,625 for a three-bedroom floor plan that features 1,219 square feet of living space.
I won’t claim that those rental prices are affordable housing either, although the apartment complex’s manager said it is under what’s being charged by comparable competitors. But did Mountain West Investments — which built the complex — ever claim in the first place that it was offering affordable housing to Philomath?
My recollection was that they were not, but I doublechecked my old notes. In a 2017 story that I had written from Planning Commission meeting coverage, Mountain West didn’t seem to be making any claims about producing affordable housing.
"It is a high-end, market-rate new apartment project and just for the record, it's not specifically geared toward students like a lot of projects you'll see built around this area," Richard Berger, project manager for Mountain West Investments, a Salem-based development company that specializes in apartments, told commissioners at the time.
Terms such as “high end” and “market rate” are the key references. And heck, even with that statement in 2017, it turns out that a lot of students did rent apartments there anyway when classes were about to start this fall.
So, it appears the $1,900 reference that had been aired at a public meeting is not accurate.
Brad Fuqua is editor of the Philomath Express. He can be reached at email@example.com.