Downtown Philomath
The latest estimate shows Philomath's downtown streetscapes project to begin construction late this fall and to be completed well into next year. (File photo by Canda Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath’s downtown redesign project received news of a delay that will impact the release of bid requests but City Manager Chris Workman anticipates no change with the project’s expected completion in 2023.

The holdup relates to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s process to obtain needed acquisitions to be able to perform the work.

“They need a little more time before they are going to be ready to go out for bid acquiring right-of-way, even temporary right-of-way easements, so they can work around the site,” Workman told the City Council at its Monday meeting. “Sometimes in order to pour a sidewalk on a property line, you have to step on that neighbor’s property and before ODOT’s contractor can step on that property, they need a temporary easement in place.”

ODOT requested that the request for proposals portion of the project be bumped out from May to July. Construction would then start late this fall and carry over into next summer, Workman said.

“They do anticipate with the schedule that we’ll still be able to have the same end date … but again that’s subject to change with further delays and everything else,” Workman said. “Just another day in a big construction project.”

ODOT estimates that the project will go to bid on July 28.

Known officially as the Downtown Safety and Streetscape Improvements Project, delays have already impacted the timeline. According to the city’s website, the project has an estimated price tag of $13.3 million with funding coming from a number of sources.
The project has been the result of studies that date back to the period following the completion of the highway couplet in 2008. The project’s general purpose is to “improve livability and accessibility of the city’s downtown area.”

In other news out of the March 14 City Council meeting:

• During councilor comments, David Low criticized Millpond Crossing developer Levi Miller and said although he can appreciate his mission to provide affordable housing and that his plan needed to change because of financial challenges, he knows three homeowners who would say that Miller “has not performed as he said he would in a number of instances with individual homeowners and it’s causing a lot of consternation.” Low followed with specific examples and summed up his comments by saying, “It’s just very poor behavior and disingenuous. No matter how affordable a house is, if you can’t talk to the builder and get resolution, I just think it’s bad.” Workman advised any Millpond homeowners experiencing issues to contact his office and he would personally follow up with the developer. Another councilor, Catherine Biscoe, questioned why the city continues to do business with a company “that has not complied with the conditions of approval” and to come up with a strategy to make sure any developers in Philomath fulfill those infrastructure agreements before permits or certificates of occupancy are issued. Last month, the Planning Commission approved Miller’s major modifications application.

• The council approved on a 4-3 vote to amend an engineer’s report for the proposed North 11th Street Local Improvement District and a related resolution declaring the intent to make improvements. A public hearing has been scheduled for May 9.

• The council approved a proposal intended to improve access and enhance available materials for public meetings. The city beginning April 1 will use YouTube exclusively for live-streaming, which will provide public access to closed-captioning transcripts along with various other enhancements, and convert to abbreviated action minutes in the record. The city had been experiencing drawbacks with live-streaming on Facebook.

• The council agreed to ask the Finance and Administration Committee to develop a policy on how to respond to community support requests.

• The council unanimously approved a motion to return to in-person meetings effective April 1 when the state and city’s state of emergency expires. Committee members will be asked to attend in person unless they are out of town or not comfortable physically attending. The city will continue to live-stream meetings and provide electronic access.

• The council on a roll-call vote approved an amended ordinance that updates the citizen involvement chapter of the city’s comprehensive plan. Workman lauded the efforts of the Planning Commission for their work on the topic.

• Mike Murzynsky, finance director, briefed the council on the general fund fee’s June 30 expiration. The fee when implemented had started out at $10 per month on utility bills and was later reduced to $5 and then $4. The Finance and Administration Committee recommended that the fee sunset as planned.

• The council approved utility rates for fiscal year 2022-23. The sewer base rate will see a 2% increase, which amounts to 55 cents, to cover inflation. The water rate, street utility fee and storm drain fee all remained the same.

• The council approved a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for all represented and nonrepresented staff.

• The council approved a three-year capital improvement plan as recommended by the Public Works Committee. The committee reviewed American Rescue Plan Act funds and how they could be used toward capital improvements. “There’s over $1 million that got put in for sewer projects on 17th and 18th street that are supposed to happen two summers from now,” Workman said. In addition, Workman said feasibility studies for library expansion and skate park redesign were moved up to this year.

• Councilor Ruth Causey was on the agenda with the intention of making “motions of confidence” in support of Workman and Mayor Chas Jones, saying “both were subjected to personal attacks in violation of council rules.” Biscoe interjected with a point of order and asked that more time be allowed for a rebuttal to an accusation directed at her. Causey wrote in an emailed memo on unfinished business from the council’s Feb. 14 meeting that Biscoe accused the mayor of discrimination and that a local property owner accused the city manager of coercion.

• Councilor Matt Lehman reported that the state’s Regional Transportation Plan “has acknowledged that a study needs to be done for congestion issues on Highway 20/34 … there is a process underway to actually fund that study.”

• Prior to the regular meeting, councilors met for just over an hour for a work session focused on strategic plan priorities.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.