Possible downtown-area rezoning options discussed

A Philomath Main Street Plan stakeholder engagement meeting on Nov. 5 provided a glimpse into the city’s possible approach to rezoning map amendments and zoning code changes in connection to the downtown improvement project that is currently scheduled to begin in the spring of 2022.

Becky Hewitt, ECONorthwest consultant, told meeting participants that as a city moves forward with downtown public space improvements, it needs to make sure that private development regulations in the immediate area are aligned and ultimately compliment the streetscape investment.

“The outcome here will be recommendations about how zoning might change,” Hewitt said. “We’re not writing the actual code amendments, we’re not doing the actual zoning map amendments, but teeing those up for consideration by staff and the Planning Commission going forward.”

During the Planning Commission stage, the broader public input process would begin with things like public hearings and contact with property owners.

The stakeholder group was organized in connection with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan update. The project’s timeline dates back to Feb. 24 when the City Council, Planning Commission and project advisory committee met. The first stakeholder meeting took place on July 28.

Hewitt spent some time on where potential gateways to Philomath’s downtown core would be located — physical indicators to the traveling public that they’re about to transition into that area of town. Among the examples she provided were an arch over the road, artwork lining the street, eye-catching signage and landscaping with things like pedestrian pavers and other visuals worked in.

However, Hewitt was not recommending any particular style of gateway but to get a feel for where code might need to change as those transitions begin.

The area for the code audit encompasses Main Street and Applegate Street from 17th to 10th, but also includes a study of potential zoning changes to adjacent College Street.

The zoning map amendment discussion included the possibility of extending the city’s C-1 downtown commercial zone to the east or west. Also, Hewitt brought up the consideration of rezoning office-residential areas (on College Street, for example) to a mixed-use designation, which could give the city and property owners more flexibility in the future.

Code changes could include topics such as prohibiting drive-throughs in the C-1 zoning, which would not impact existing businesses such as banks or fast-food restaurants. Another possibility could be changes to allow townhomes in the downtown vicinity just outside of the C-1 zone and in the current office-residential zone.

The initial reaction from a few stakeholders at the meeting leaned toward opposing any townhome construction in the area. There are no proposals to actually build townhomes, but a zoning change could make it an option for a property owner in the future. Hewitt said she can see why nearby housing may seem contradictory but added that it can actually add to the “downtown energy” and serve as an overall benefit.

Another possible change could be to clarify the definition and treatment of businesses that mix production, sales and consumption — breweries, wineries and distilleries, for example.

“You would want to be able to differentiate based from their operations on how much space there is for on-site consumption relative to the space for production and if it does have a more industrial function,” Hewitt said.

Various ideas on parking requirements were also brought up. The one that attracted the most feedback involved the possible coordination of shared lots behind buildings (businesses not using their lots evenings and weekends, for example).

Hewitt’s presentation then progressed to a talk on development standards, which could include guidelines on things like parking, entrances, window coverage and signage in the C-1 zone. Other topic areas could include the possible allowance of taller buildings in specific locations, clarifying pedestrian and transit amenity requirements, and establishing standards for building materials.

Design standards make it possible for the city to establish an architectural theme in that section of Philomath that would complement the streetscape theme. Based on a survey that the city conducted, the majority of those participating indicated that they prefer a timber town theme.

In terms of the look, City Planner Pat Depa has been working with the Planning Commission on a downtown design manual that addresses many of those types of standards, City Manager Chris Workman said.

Locations that could fall under the label of “nonconforming uses” was another subject area introduced. An option could be to encourage relocation outside of the downtown zone, perhaps with incentives.

Wrapping up the discussion, Hewitt said she sensed that the biggest question for participants involved the future of the city blocks that are adjacent to the downtown core.

“I think we can take another look at that — kind of digging in on the specifics of those adjacent blocks and refine those recommendations a little bit,” Hewitt said.

As for what happens next, the city may decide it needs to take a look at the rezoning and get that in place first before proceeding in other areas. Recommendations could be determined through the Main Street Plan discussions, but also out of economic opportunities and housing needs analyses as well as a buildable lands inventory that was completed.

“That may be the first push that the City Council and the Planning Commission make is to look at recommended zone changes and where they make sense and where they don’t, reach out to the public, set some dates for some public hearings, have property owners come in, talk to the Planning Commission … there’s still a lot of process,” Workman said, adding that it could be determined that certain topics may have more of an urgency than others when it comes to the overall timeline.

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