Recent rainfall has filled Millpond Crossing home sites where excavation occurred. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Millpond Crossing housing subdivision has gone dark over the past several weeks following a stop order issued by the city and a re-evaluation of the entire project by the developer.

MPC Builders’ Levi Miller wrote to City Manager Chris Workman on Jan. 6 that he needed to make some decisions about how to move forward with the project. The stop order on construction was issued in early November to correct a Phase 2B grading plan and also outlined requirements related to safety and other work that needed to be done.

“Regarding new construction, in light of city review comments and follow up conversations … on the submitted grading plan for Phase 2B, I have taken a step back and am re-evaluating the project with my advisers and consultants to see what options I have moving forward,” wrote Miller, who then indicated that he would have the information he needed the following week.

As of Saturday, Workman said he had not heard back from Miller on any decisions that he might’ve reached.

“So, he’s re-evaluating, which makes sense now that he knows what his costs will be in reference to that grading plan,” Workman said.

With the cost of fill material that would be needed to reach compliance, the average cost of a home could be significantly higher than what Miller had envisioned as part of his original stated goal to provide affordable housing in Philomath.

“I don’t blame him for wanting to try to reduce his costs on the project,” Workman said. “And now that he knows what the city’s expectations are … he’s got to run his calculations to see what his cost per lot is going to be and cost per house is going to be and then see if in this market with increasing interest rates, he can afford to build homes and sell them.”

Miller could not be reached by the Philomath News last week for comments on the future of the development.

“I’m hopeful that the project can move forward — we need the housing in Philomath,” Workman said. “So I’m still hopeful that there’s a way financially to make that project pencil out but it’s expensive.”

Miller had transitioned from his original plan of filling the subdivision completely with single-family homes. Last year, he received approval from the city to incorporate townhomes into the development in an effort to provide affordable, entry-level housing.

The city issued the stop order to Millpond Crossing on Nov. 7.

“Primarily, it was needed to bring his development into compliance with the plans that had been submitted — specifically the grading plan,” Workman said.

Grading plans include an illustration of a property’s topography and outlines proposed contours and storm drainage system configurations, limits of grading and various other details.

“It shows the grading, the elevations, it shows where your water lines are going to run, your sewer lines running downhill, all of those things,” Workman explained.

The developer’s engineers submitted Phase 2B plans to the city that Workman said included elevations below the adjacent floodplain, adding, “all winter, those crawl spaces would be full of water, which we don’t want.”

Elevation certificates confirmed that the new construction was not in line with the approved plan. The city gave MPC Builders two options:

• Submit updated grading plans that lower the grades from previously-approved plans for city review and approval.

• Bring the current grading into compliance with the approved grading plans.

“As stated in your subdivision approval, you cannot create additional wetlands, which includes streets, house footprints and yards,” Workman said in the Nov. 7 email, also telling Miller that he needed to take action on a Public Works punch list of tasks to be completed.

MPC Builders responded with a resubmitted grading plan and the city engineer had several comments and returned it to the developer for corrections. That’s where things currently stand.

Work that had been done on the east side of South 16th included the pouring of foundations at two home sites. Two other footprints had been formed but not yet poured.

Expressing concern over the size and depth of the excavated area and with winter’s wet weather arriving, Workman also told Miller that “your site now qualifies as an attractive nuisance by Philomath code and needs to be encompassed by fencing in order to protect the public. Please install six-foot cyclone fencing, no trespassing signage and limited access points/gates along the east side of 16th Street and north side of Chapel Drive immediately.”

The excavated areas, which have been filled with water in recent weeks, fits the definition of “attractive nuisance” — a property that is likely to attract kids where the owners would be held liable for injuries to children that trespass.

Per the stop order, MPC Builders was required to freeze its work on the east side of 16th Street except to install the fencing, remove construction materials, correct grading work and complete tasks as outlined on the Public Works punch list.

As of Saturday, no fencing has been installed around the areas of concern.

As indicated, Miller did not respond to Philomath News requests for an interview to answer questions about the stop order, grading plans, fencing, status of the property line adjustments, 16th Street paving, methane readings and to clarify what he stated to the city in an email about re-evaluating the project.

The city also has concerns about rainwater collecting at an excavation site just north of Chapel Drive. If a flooding event occurred and the site crested, that could wash out the road. City and county officials have been talking about what could be done to alleviate those concerns.

Residents and others who drive on South 16th continue to have a bumpy experience with the street not yet paved following water and sewer infrastructure work that required tearing it up. The street was originally to be paved on Halloween, but delays followed and the contractor canceled altogether. Workman said he doesn’t know of a definitive date for that work to be done.

The city confirmed that MPC Builders had received a Business Oregon brownfield loan on Dec. 23 to continue methane mitigation through an agreement reached with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

On Jan. 18, homeowners received notice that work was to be done to “complete further environmental assessment of biogases in soil at two focused areas of the developed portion of the Millpond Crossing neighborhood. DEQ has requested MPC complete this investigation at your homes based on information that has been collected to date. Soil gas concentrations in your yard spaces have demonstrated elevated concentrations of methane and/or hydrogen sulfide.”

MPC Builders said in the notice that the purpose of the additional assessment is to “determine if there is risk of soil gas migration to structure fill (crushed rock) present below your homes, and to attempt to delineate soil gas concentrations in the yard spaces.”

The developer said from what they have learned, crawl space monitoring has indicated that soil gas was not migrating through the structure fill material and making its way into homes at concentrations of concern.

The notice then said PBS Engineering with DEQ supervision would be completing “focused drilling assessment in the yards” at eight addresses on Timothy Street and South 16th Street.

“PBS will install a combination of temporary and permanent soil gas monitoring points in these yard spaces,” according to the notice.

In addition, MPC told homeowners that additional routine monitoring at homes would resume during the week of Jan. 23.

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.

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