City’s discussion on proposed RV park code changes to continue

The city’s work on possible code changes related to RV parks has been an ongoing issue for the past 18 months. Back in December 2019, Councilor Ruth Causey proposed various changes, including adding a definition of RV park, clarification on using recreational vehicles as dwellings and additional criteria for the issuance of conditional-use permits.

One month before those proposals came up, the Philomath City Council approved a controversial 175-space recreational vehicle park to be located off North 19th Street south of the railroad tracks. Since then, it’s been discussed, reviewed, revised and discussed again at Planning Commission meetings and work sessions.

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During the May 10 council meeting, a public hearing on proposed code amendments did not attract any citizen testimony, but there was plenty of discussion among the councilors themselves as they faced a motion to approve the changes and direct the city manager to bring an adopting ordinance to the next meeting.

“She challenged the Planning Commission to look for ways to put some provisions in the code and take a good look at it and see if we could make sure Philomath didn’t become a town of RV parks and at the same time, we wanted to stay compliant with state laws and not outright ban RV parks, as they are a legal allowed use in the state,” City Manager Chris Workman said about Causey’s intent while providing background on the issue.

The Planning Commission began discussing the amendments in February 2020 to see if limiting the number of RV parks or spaces would be necessary. The commissioners agreed that eliminating RV facilities as an allowed land use in all three industrial zoned districts and making it a conditional use in the heavy industrial zone would be appropriate. The change would allow the city another layer of review on the need and impact to the city and surrounding areas.

Although there was no public testimony, the Fair Housing Council of Oregon and Housing Land Advocates did submit a joint letter with concerns on the proposed changes. The letter from their perspective cites state statutes that RVs are recognized as housing, and that local governments are prohibited from limiting the length of occupancy as long as certain conditions are met.

“These units are routinely used as long-term housing for both the elderly, for wildfire victims and some of our most vulnerable communities,” reads the letter, which was signed by Fair Housing Council executive director Allan Lazo and Housing Land Advocates president Jennifer Bragar. “Most recently, forest fires at a catastrophic scale have created a great need for this housing statewide. Many other jurisdictions are actively looking for ways to facilitate placement of this housing. It appears that Philomath is set on keeping lower income individuals and fire refugees from entering their community.”

Deputy City Attorney David Coulombe provided a written memorandum addressing the concerns that had been brought up and City Attorney Jim Brewer commented during the meeting.

“Certainly, the council could think about RVs as a type of tiny homes or micro shelters and allow them under some other circumstances but I think as we look at RV parks themselves, really the concerns that the Fair Housing Council and Housing Land Advocates are raising are political issues, not legal issues.”

Councilor Jessica Andrade expressed concerns with language in the proposed changes in a few different sections, including what it could mean for people not able to afford buying a home. In addition, she said she had “immense concerns about limiting RV parks to heavy industrial only.”

Andrade referenced an ongoing methane issue that surfaced during the Millpond Crossing construction project, which is taking place on a former mill property. There, the developer is working with the Department of Environmental Quality to monitor methane levels on the site.

In that issue, the city entered into a memorandum of understanding with the developer requiring that they continue to work with DEQ on testing and monitoring for methane and implement any mitigation that may be required.

“I’m concerned for human safety, especially because you’re talking about people being there 24/7 for however long they stay there,” Andrade said.

Councilor David Low also had questions about the proposed code changes and how they could impact less fortunate people.

“I intend to vote for the motion regarding the RV park but I do share Councilor Andrade’s concern about any message it may send about how open Philomath is to meeting housing needs for the ‘houseless’ …,” Low said.

Low said there are big questions to be considered on the ongoing issue of affordable housing and how the RV park issue fits into the picture. Workman said he understands those types of concerns, but the changes were aimed at establishing where RV parks would be allowed to be constructed in relation to areas of the community.

Mayor Chas Jones said that in light of last summer’s wildfires and COVID-related issues, he wondered if people who vehemently opposed the RV park in 2019 may now have a different perspective.

Councilor Matt Lehman said he likes that the onus would be on the developer to speak to why an RV park would be needed in the community instead of being presented with a list of options. Lehman approved of the proposed language in the amendments.

Councilor Catherine Biscoe said she had no language concerns but she did talk about the issue of separating emergency or affordable housing from recreational uses. In the case of the new Land of the Giants RV Park, the information provided by the developer showed that the new facility would require newer RV models and charge a rate that could be considered beyond affordable for those facing financial hardship.

“There’s a little bit of mixed messaging here that is complicating this public hearing topic,” Biscoe said. “I”m generally in support of this but I’d like to see if there’s a way to tidy up that language or separate those two discussions between affordable housing … and actually what is a transient lodging destination-type RV park.”

Andrade indicated that she believes that line between those two issues remains ambiguous and that clarification is needed. She proposed that the record remain open.

“It feels like there’s a lot of thoughts to discuss among council members in particular and I think in light of this, if there are members of the public that would like to contribute to this conversation, I think they should be able to,” Andrade said. “And later on, we can have that conversation in more depth.”

Low said he also believes there are discussions remaining on issues involving affordable living and “houselessness.” Biscoe added that she agreed with Andrade on safety concerns and believes the record should be left open to clean up some language.

“I think we’re really close to moving forward on this but there are a few points there that might be worth revisiting” before the process that has been going on for 18 months closes out, Biscoe said.

Asked if there was any sort of urgency with the issue, Workman said that as of May 10, he has received no other interest for an RV park to be constructed in Philomath beyond the project that was already approved.

An original motion to approve the code amendment did not take place with a second motion to table it passing on a 6-1 vote. Councilors then approved a motion on a 4-3 vote to keep the record open until May 28 (see voting record below for details).

In other stories out of the May 10 meeting:

• The council set a June 14 public hearing to receive comments on a request from local resident Andrew Wenger to vacate the north-south alley from the railroad tracks to Pioneer Street between North Ninth and 10th streets.

• In addition to the RV park code amendments issue, there were three other public hearings for proposed uses of state revenue sharing, code amendments related to building material standards and a proposed transient lodging tax. There was no citizen testimony in any of the public hearings. The council unanimously approved to adopt proposed code amendments on building material standards and the transient lodging tax. Ordinances for those will be prepared for the next meeting.

• During a discussion on the proposed creation of a local improvement district to pay for street improvements to North 11th, a few councilors had questions about whether the city should move forward at this time with paying for a city engineer’s report, estimated to cost between $3,000 and $4,000. There were strong opinions voiced on both sides of the issue and in the end, councilors approved of the engineer’s report on a 5-2 vote.

VOTING RECORD
Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath City Council at its May 10 meeting:
• To approve a consent agenda that included City Council minutes from April 12 and April 26 work sessions and liquor license renewals. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve minutes as amended of a May 12 City Council meeting. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To set a public hearing for June 14 for an alley vacation. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To adopt the findings as presented in the staff report for the proposed code amendments (related to recreational vehicle park facilities) as presented in File No. PC21-02. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Low. Vote: None/tabled.
• To table a motion to adopt the findings as presented in the staff report for the proposed code amendments (related to recreational vehicle park facilities) as presented in File No. PC21-02. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Passes 6-1 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low; No—Nielson).
• To keep the record open until May 28 on File No. PC21-02 (code amendments related to RV park facilities). Motion: Andrade. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Jones, Lehman; No—Causey, Low, Nielson).
• To adopt the findings in the staff report for the proposed code amendments as presented in File No. PC21-03 and that the amendments be approved and the city manager is directed to present to the City Council with an adopting ordinance. Motion: Low. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To direct staff to prepare and present an ordinance establishing a transient lodging tax
based on the model ordinance provided to the City Council for consideration at a future meeting. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To direct staff to prepare and present an ordinance establishing methodologies for water, sewer, street and park system development charges to the council for consideration at a
future meeting.” Motion: Low. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To form a Streetscape Design Review Ad Hoc Committee as amended to review and give final
approval of streetscapes elements of the Philomath Downtown Safety and Streetscapes Project,
to be dissolved at the conclusion of its purpose. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To direct staff to work with the city engineer to complete a survey and report for the North 11th Street local improvement district. Motion: Low. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To adjourn the meeting. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Lehman, Nielson; No—Jones, Low).
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