As Philomath staggers under the onslaught of recent new developments and annexations, the latest proposed development in town, the Lepman master planned development, has come under close scrutiny by many local residents, business owners and community stakeholders.

After months of questionable land use procedure and public involvement practices between city officials and Philomath residents, several highly improper events took place at the Philomath Chamber of Commerce September luncheon.

In a room filled with local business owners, nonprofit representatives, community leaders and city officials, developer Scott Lepman presented his proposal for the already denied master planned development of 39 acres on the north side of Philomath. Beautiful full-color double-sided flyers, touting the benefits to Philomath of the RV park, self-storage and industrial flex space, were placed at each table. Key phrases such as “tourism, higher profits and honoring rural lifestyles” jumped off the pages.

Just weeks prior, on Aug. 26​, the Philomath Planning Commission had denied Lepman’s master planned development application. That denial was based on development criteria that was not met, as defined by state law and the Philomath Comprehensive Plan. The denial cited inadequate job development and the risk of the RV park becoming substandard housing.

Without opportunity for dozens of chamber members to hear opposing presentations about the proposal and the ability to consider the 1,000-plus pages of the application, including dozens of comments in opposition, Lepman presented his plan as if approved.

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Shockingly, after the luncheon, Philomath’s mayor, city manager and Lepman engaged in lengthy conversation, raising concerns of ex parte contact. Just days later, a letter from the president of the Chamber of Commerce “on behalf of the board” was filed. Allowing a heavily biased presentation of the development proposal to the Chamber of Commerce membership ​after it was denied by the Planning Commission is procedurally incorrect and unethical.

A denied land-use proposal, under appeal, has no business being presented in a one-sided presentation before chamber members as an approved development proposal. More importantly, how does a letter representing the chamber board and subsequently, the 95-plus members of the Philomath Chamber of Commerce get submitted on behalf of the developer, especially considering Philomath’s Chamber of Commerce has many members who have taken a public stand ​against ​ this development? Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce had no official record of involvement in this proposal until after the luncheon.

Regulation of land-use decisions is outlined extensively in the Oregon Constitution, the Oregon Revised Statutes, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and Philomath’s municipal code. It is outlined extensively because it is the law.

Citizens should expect nothing less than compliance, transparency and honesty when it comes to the development of Philomath.

As the proposal for the Lepman master planned development comes again before city officials on Oct. 15, it is vital that Philomath citizens rally against this development, which will bring higher taxes, substandard housing, minimal jobs and substantial pressure on our limited water resources. We must recognize that the Lepman development will take more from our community than it will contribute, before it is too late.

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Sandy Heath is the chair of the organization Grow Philomath Sensibly and writes on behalf of the organization.