City to take inventory of unfinished sidewalks on improved streets

The Philomath Public Works Committee agreed to not at this time require property owners to pay for the installation of a section of sidewalk on the south side of Neabeack Hill Drive.

During a discussion that lasted close to an hour on Thursday afternoon, the committee instead directed city staff to complete a citywide inventory of unfinished sidewalks that exist on improved streets.

Kevin Fear, Pubic Works director, said he believes most sidewalks on improved streets are finished and for property owners constructing new houses on unimproved streets, they sign a non-remonstrative agreement that sidewalks will come in when the street is brought up to city code.

David Low, who sits on the City Council, brought up the Neabeack Hill Drive sidewalk issue while speaking during public comments as a private citizen. Low cited city code that sidewalks are required in such instances at the cost of the property owners.

“Many people, including my family, routinely walk up and down the hill,” Low later wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to the Public Works Committee. “Safety is a primary concern, further justifying the need for a finished sidewalk.”

A continuous sidewalk is located on the other side of the street, although Low said it can be dangerous to cross near the location of the missing sidewalk segment because of the steepness of the street and how sharply it curves.

“This continuous sidewalk that is just on the other side of the road continues the entire length of Neabeack Hill Drive as well as 30th Street, and can be accessed anywhere along this long stretch of road — no need to cross at any point one does not feel safe,” property owners Paige Olsen and Murray Stewart wrote in a letter to Public Works Director Kevin Fear.

Schneider Homes developed the subdivision and turned over its interest in common land in 2013 to the Neabeack Hill Homeowners Association. The missing sidewalk segment sits on an undeveloped section of land owned by the HOA and two property owners.

Mark Grimmer, the other private property owner connected to the unfinished segment, spoke out at Thursday’s committee meeting and brought up various other points for the committee members to consider, including slope stability issues that have occurred in the past.

“Back in 2007, these lots had permits and two foundations were put on these permits. Schneider put a whole bunch of fill dirt on there and it slid down almost all the way to 30th Street,” Grimmer said.

Both Grimmer and City Manager Chris Workman remembered another slide occurring at the location five or six years ago.

“If we put sidewalks in there and then this hill slides again, I mean, if I just put in thousands of dollars worth of sidewalks and if they’re ruined, do I have to put them in again?” Grimmer asked.

The HOA’s board of directors had communicated with its members about the unstable slope issue after consulting with a geotechnical engineer, according to board reports distributed in 2017 and 2019. The rising cost of dealing with the issue was at the time cited as a reason for an HOA membership due increase.

Grimmer’s next comment, however, sent the discussion in a new direction on whether or not the city should continue to look at these issues on a case-by-case, complaint-driven basis.

“If you guys choose to have me put those sidewalks in, I will absolutely abide to your decision,” Grimmer said. “But my thing is if this is complaint-driven, there’s many places that I walk around this city that don’t have sidewalks.”

Following more discussion, Workman asked the committee for its thoughts on taking a more proactive approach to the issue. Councilors Doug Edmonds and Chas Jones, and Mayor Eric Niemann sit on the committee.

“I think the idea of looking at the citywide and just coming up with a plan makes more sense to me, otherwise if we do a complaint-driven one, there may be sections of the city that will maybe never have sidewalks,” Edmonds said.

Jones brought up accessibility concerns and that that is another issue that will likely be a component of a future discussion.

Garry Black, Public Works operations supervisor, said a citywide inventory could probably be finished in two or three weeks.

The committee decided it would report back to the City Council that the Neabeack Hill Drive issue had been discussed with no action taken at this time involving the property owners and that staff received direction on how to proceed. Workman added that when staff creates an agenda item summary, the other interested parties will also receive a copy.

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