The Corvallis City Council is gearing up for a high-stakes meeting Monday that likely will have a significant impact on housing and development trends well into the future.
The council will hold a public hearing that will define its policy on land annexations and then follow with deliberations on three separate annexation applications. Two of the annexations could add significant new housing options as well as perhaps exacerbate livability problems on the west side of town.
Because of high interest in the issues a larger than normal crowd is expected, and the meeting has been moved from its usual downtown fire station site to the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. with the public hearing on annexation policies, followed in order by deliberations in the Good Samaritan, Caldwell Farms and Marys annexations. After that, if time allows, the council is scheduled to hear community comments, consider its consent agenda and exchange mayor, councilor and city manager reports.
Since passing a ballot measure in 1976, the first city in Oregon to do so, Corvallis has forwarded all land annexations to the voters. However, in March of 2016, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed SB 1573, a measure that limits voter-approved annexations. The goal was to streamline the annexation process and help ease the state’s housing supply problems.
Corvallis, backed by Philomath and the League of Oregon Cities, took SB 1573 to court, saying that the city’s “home rule” charter takes precedence over state law. The matter is before the state Court of Appeals, although a lower court in Benton County rejected a request to “stay” or halt implementation of the law while the appeals continue.
Councilors are scheduled to review three options when they deliberate at the close of the public hearing, which will include testimony from residents.
• First, the council could continue to submit annexation proposals to the voters and see if anyone objects.
• Second, the city council could submit to the voters only those annexation proposals in which the applicant has agreed in writing to use that approach.
• Third, the City Council could make final decisions on annexation applications until the court action concludes.
And no matter which option the council selects, further legal action is possible.
This is the least divisive proposal of the three. Samaritan Health Services wants the city to annex 17.3 acres of land Samaritan owns north of the Good Samaritan Regional Medical center in north Corvallis.
The hospital would use the additional land for three office buildings plus additional parking. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan at its Dec. 6 meeting. No one spoke in favor or against the proposal at the City Council’s Jan. 16 public hearing.
An earlier, more complicated and controversial Samaritan plan that would have added 85 acres, set aside more than 50 acres for housing, and swap Samritan land for city-owned park land was withdrawn.
Owners of 16.45 acres south of West Hills Road west of the 53rd Street roundabout want to build housing on the site. The developer’s “general land use plan” calls for more than 90 units plus an assisted living center, although that plan is not binding and the parcel could be developed with more than that total. The existence of wetlands on the property, currently used to grow grass seed, complicates the challenge of developing it.
The Planning Commission approved the annexation and zone change pieces of the plan on 6-1 and 7-0 votes, respectively, on Dec. 20. The City Council held a public hearing Jan. 16.
Key concerns of opponents at both meetings were traffic and safety on West Hills Road, wetlands issues and whether land for housing is really in such short supply in Corvallis. Also, residents said it makes no sense to develop the Caldwell Farms site when the owners of the Alberti and Taylor properties on either side have no plans to develop their rural acreage.
Reidents also note the possible combined livability effects of the Caldwell Farms plan and the nearby Marys proposal.
David Lin hopes to annex a 118-acre tree farm northeast of the roundabout — and less than half a mile from the Caldwell Farms lot. His general land use plan calls for more than 1,000 units of housing, mainly apartments, but opponents fear the total will be more than 2,000 and that the development could add the equivalent of Philomath, or 5,000 people, to the city’s population.
The Planning Commission forwarded the annexation Dec. 6 on a 4-3 vote in which chair Jasmin Woodside broke the deadlock. The City Council held a public hearing on the plan Jan. 8.
More than 40 residents testified or ceded their time to others during the council meeting, which lasted four-and-a-half hours. Opponents outnumbered backers of the plan by a 7-1 margin. And just as with the Caldwell Farms proposal traffic and safety, school capacity and infrastructure challenges were repeatedly mentioned by those testifying in opposition. Backers of the plan, including those in the real estate industry, cited a lack of housing supply as well as the land on which to build it.