Sidewalk being poured
The Philomath City Council will continue to consider some form of a local improvement district to pay for North 11th Street improvements, although it appears that various financial mechanisms and options remain on the table. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Philomath City Council through a series of close votes on Monday night opted to move forward with continuing its discussion about making improvements to North 11th Street. Councilors debated the issue for 3-1/2 hours and in the end, asked for an engineer’s report that had been prepared last summer to be amended that outlines a proposal that the city pay for street improvements and that a sidewalk-only local improvement district be formed.

That sidewalk-only option had been included in a detailed spreadsheet prepared by the city and it showed an estimated project cost of $187,398 with assessments calculated for property owners. However, those numbers will change with various Heather Glen subdivision lots and a city-owned property to be omitted from the LID.

The City Council would then explore options once it receives the revised engineer’s report.

So, questions remain on the table about exactly what may unfold in the future with North 11th Street improvements and who pays for what. The situation also has implications on future city street infrastructure financing in general.

According to the spreadsheet that illustrated financing options, if the city pays for the street project — which again would not be included in the LID — the estimated cost would be $694,602. A CAMPO (Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) grant would bring in $140,000 to go toward that expense, $300,000 would come from street system development charges and the remaining $254,602 would come out of the city’s street funds.

City Manager Chris Workman in his staff report prepared for the meeting stated that “the improvements identified for North 11th Street are needed and will significantly improve the safety for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycle riders in the neighborhood.” Workman recommended that the council determine an appropriate assessment to the property owners and direct staff to work with the city engineer on possible financing options.

That’s basically what happened following an extensive conversation on the possibilities. But before councilors started debating the issue, citizens who live on North 11th Street had an opportunity to air their views on the matter — and there was plenty of frustration in their voices.

Seven residents provided public comments and made it clear that they opposed the project as it existed heading into the meeting. In fact, a few even suggested that the street be shut down entirely to eliminate new traffic from the nearby subdivisions and return the road to its previous state years ago when it was a dead end.

Many of those commenting referred to the financial hardship that they would face if the LID was established and some gave examples of what they viewed as unfair assessments. 

The most common theme throughout the public comments came down to the Heather Glen and Quail Glenn subdivisions with residents believing they have not paid their fair share, citing conditions of approval that have not materialized.

Among those commenting were property owners Kristin and Mark Knutson, who have been outspoken against the proposed LID since the very beginning.

“There have been over 25 different methods of assessment presented and debated — most of them are not congruent with Oregon law,” Kristin Knutson told councilors. “They are not equitable for us. The process has been a hardship for my family and a hardship for the property owners of 11th Street. It’s not how business should be conducted in Philomath.”

The councilors then launched into complex discussions that led to a number of motions and amended motions. The conversations covered a lot of ground but the first decision at hand was whether or not to even proceed with the idea of an LID.

Asked Councilor David Low early in the discussion, “Do we want the road improvement done? Does the council want to follow through with the commitment to the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) as it’s been envisioned? Or, do we not?”

Councilor Catherine Biscoe wanted to avoid making any decisions on whether or not to move forward until seeing what the project would look like without the Heather Glen properties included, forcing that subdivision to follow through on conditions of approval related to street improvements.

Workman mentioned that in addition to Heather Glen, the city itself could be excluded from the LID as well with its requirement to be responsible for the Flossie Overman Discovery Park frontage. Those two points ultimately were included in the final approved motion of the evening.

At one point, Biscoe voiced the desire to make sure the city evaluates how future developments might pay their fair portion of a street improvement and stressed that it would be premature to move forward with an LID. She also said the current LID structure is not sustainable or equitable and suggested that alternative funding needs to be explored.

Councilor Ruty Causey said the most expedient way to move forward would be through an LID, saying, “I am very concerned about the safety issues on North 11th Street as a result of the park and increased pedestrian traffic … I think there is an urgent need to get this done.”

Councilor Jessica Andrade said she also has safety concerns for the street but doesn’t believe doing things fast is the answer, suggesting that the council has an opportunity “to think outside the box and come up with something that is better for the community.”

Low and Councilor Teresa Nielson both said they weren’t ready to close the door on an LID just yet. Said Nielson, “I think there are still options to be considered.”

Meanwhile, Councilor Matt Lehman said he thinks all of them agree that using an LID and fully burdening the property owners for the complete cost would be too onerous and added that it would probably remain that way even when removing the Heather Glen properties and the city lot.

Lehman then added, “I think that if we’re using street funds and SDCs and grants, we’re in effect using taxpayer dollars to supplement the cost of doing this improvement. So I think we should just cut through all of the red tape and just ask the citizens to do a bond for this particular project if we’re going to end up funding it mostly through taxpayer dollars.

“I’d rather do it through the front door than through the back door.”

A motion to not pursue the LID failed on a 4-3 vote (Andrade, Biscoe, Lehman yea; Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson nay).

Causey followed with the final motion and it was later approved by the same 4-3 margin (Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson yea; Andrade, Biscoe, Lehman nay).

The topic will be taken up again at a future meeting, presumably after the revised engineer’s report is completed. Options will be revisited and other financial mechanisms to pay for the project could be discussed.

Biscoe sees the issue as only the beginning of a broader conversation.

“There are dozens of other streets that we will need to address for street infrastructure projects in the future,” she said. “All of this discussion tonight has not done anything to address those needs.”

There was some talk about the possibility of the North 11th Street residents not forming an LID and being responsible for putting in the sidewalks themselves — perhaps giving each property owner three years to get it done. Biscoe wondered about possible grants that could also ease the financial burden. Workman provided complexities involved with that idea — although it didn’t seem to be off the table. 

It was another perspective aired toward the end of a long meeting … another discussion for a future date. In the meantime, North 11th Street’s residents will continue to wait to see how this continuing issue unfolds.