Millpond Crossing
The Planning Commission approved major modifications to the Millpond Crossing housing development in Philomath. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The developer of Philomath’s largest housing development received approval from the Planning Commission earlier this week to move forward with plans for a redesign that includes the addition of townhomes and a new location for a neighborhood park.

“Right now, the project is at a crossroads,” Miller said. “I have an approved subdivision, we have 109, 110 lots left to develop. I can take the approved subdivision that we currently have in place and I can develop the lots — I can hire a site contractor, we can set up the bid, I can have them develop the whole thing for me and I could sell finished lots off to one, two, three or four builders at current retail prices and they can come build homes in the $550,000, $600,000 range and the project can move on. But it would not be affordable.”

Miller said he doesn’t want to do that, which led him to seeking approval of his development’s major modification application “to continue the mission and find a way to decrease costs and to continue affordability …”

The evening discussion included a lot of back-and-forth discussion about the issues that Millpond Crossing has experienced, including those related to COVID, rising construction costs, the discovery of methane and various other time-delaying occurrences.

“Obviously, this whole subdivision has been beset with all kinds of problems right from the get-go,” Commissioner Giana Bernardini said. “But, if the whole concept behind it was to up our inventory of affordable housing, I do feel like that’s something which we all recognize is a great need in our town and this alteration to the previous plan seems to be a clear attempt to do that.”

Accompanying the conversation were explanations of Miller’s new direction with the inclusion of townhomes, which he said will keep the selling price lower, as well as moving the park’s location.

Currently, the developer is waiting for a 14-day appeal period to end. The only individuals eligible to appeal the decision are those who testified at the public hearing. If an appeal does come in, the matter would go before the City Council.

The commissioners spent approximately 3-1/2 hours on the issue with a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of the development itself. Developer Levi Miller had plenty to say about the setbacks he’s experienced with Millpond Crossing, a development that he describes as a mission to provide affordable housing to Philomath.

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City Manager Chris Workman said Friday in a follow-up interview that if there is no appeal, the developer can then get to work on submitting a revised preliminary plat map that conforms to the city’s conditions of approval — for example, Timothy Street connecting between 16th and 17th streets and related housing configurations.

The city manager’s office will then review the updated documents and if approved, Miller could get started on what remains of the subdivision’s second phase, or 2B, as it’s been identified.

“So I imagine before too long, he’d be cutting into the road and doing the water lines and the sewer lines to reach the houses that come off the east side of 16th Street,” said Workman, adding that fixing a curb and vacating the Head Rig Street right-of-way will also be needed in that vicinity under the new plans.

“He’s got Phase 2 and 2B stuff to get finished up, so he’s got a storm line and some other things to finish … especially down on Chapel Drive, stuff the county’s waiting for him to do,” Workman said. “It sounds like the county’s making him wait until the weather dries up a little bit before they’re going to let him dig in that area along Chapel.”

After those remaining infrastructure items from 2 and 2B get checked, the developer would then proceed into a pre-engineering meeting with the city engineer, city manager and public works director.

“That’ll look at where he’s putting all of his water lines, sewer lines, streetlights, all that information,” Workman said.

A part of Phase 2 that has irritated homeowners on the north side of Timothy Street relates to an open ditch that remains behind their backyards along Willow Lane. A series of events need to take place before the ditch can be filled in.

Part of the work remaining between the developer and Benton County involves getting the storm ditch to the other side of Chapel Drive, Workman said. Once the developer connects the storm ditch to Willow Lane and Chapel, then he can fill in the ditch behind Timothy.

“The main point there is we don’t want to get rid of the ditch on Timothy before we’ve got another place for the water to get down to the other side of Chapel, or we’ll end up flooding houses out this spring when the snowpack starts to melt and the rain starts coming down,” Workman said. “We’ve got to have a route for that stormwater to go and right now, the only route we have for that stormwater to go is along the backside of Timothy and down 15th Street.”

As such, that piece of the puzzle primarily comes down to when Benton County gives Miller the green light to start construction.

Miller would also need to meet with the Park Advisory Board to submit a final version of his plans for the neighborhood park. The park board has final approval on the design, Workman said.

“He can’t start building homes (in Phase 3) until all of the infrastructure and the park are done,” Workman said. “At the same time he’s working on infrastructure, I assume that he’ll be working on getting the park approved by the Park Advisory Board.”

The public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting included the testimony of two people speaking in favor of the applicant’s modifications — Marie Davis, a Millpond Crossing development who also works for Miller, and Daniel Sidder, speaking on behalf of Benton Habitat for Humanity.

Benton Habitat for Humanity has expressed its support of the development as advocates for affordable homeownership. Sidder said Miller and Benton Habitat are “vetting partnership opportunities.”

Nobody spoke in opposition to the application at the public hearing but an email that was received by Millpond Crossing resident Trevor Cramer was read aloud at the meeting. Cramer, who had brought up the open ditch issue behind his Timothy Street property in the past, expressed his frustrations with the developer.

Another letter received was presented as testimony from a neutral party with local resident Lori McGraw detailing her perspectives on pros and cons to the development. At the meeting, Gordon Kurtz, associate engineer with Benton County Public Works, spoke about the development’s drainage issues.

Bret Waldon of PBS Engineering and Environmental, the company doing work related to the methane mitigation, was also on hand to answer questions and provide information. A Feb. 24 update for Millpond Crossing residents said that PBS performed a complete round of monitoring for biogas — both methane and hydrogen sulfide — on Feb. 15-16 in crawl spaces of all existing homes and reported that nothing was detected.

The final vote to approve the major modifications application was not unanimous among the Planning Commission. Van Hunsaker made a motion to adopt the findings of fact in the application, approve the preliminary plat for phases 2B through 4 subsequent to conditions of approval and to instruct that the development agreement with the city be amended to reflect changes.

The motion passed, 5-2, with Hunsaker, Bernardini, Gary Conner, Darlene Rose and Joseph Sullivan voting yes. Voting no were Hayley Green and Peggy Yoder.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.