North 11th Street improvements were a topic of conversation for several months and went in a new direction with a City Council decision at a June 27 meeting. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath City Council’s long and intense debate on how to pay for recommended improvements to North 11th Street reached resolution at a June 27 meeting with approval of a plan that does not financially burden the neighborhood’s property owners through a special assessment. The decision scales back the scope of the project and the city will utilize grant funding for the completion of a sidewalk from Pioneer Street to the north end of Flossie Overman Discovery Park.

The evening’s discussion covered a lot of ground with perspectives from councilors and residents.

Mayor Chas Jones said he saw good points in three of six options provided by the city manager and said that there seems to be no ideal solution. However, he would vote in favor of abandoning the local improvement district with the city putting in the sidewalks — stressing safety as the top priority.

“There is no right decision here … every single decision here requires a balance and they all have pros and they all have cons,” Jones said. “The first child to go out and get hit by a car, all of a sudden now it would be a big priority and there would clearly be a safety issue.”

A local improvement district is a method for a group of property owners to share the cost of infrastructure improvements.

The funding to be used for the sidewalk installation originates with a grant provided by the Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, of which Philomath is a member. The sidewalk construction would occur on the west side of North 11th, which is already set up for the project through previous engineering.

North 11th Street residents have consistently provided comments of opposition to the city’s plans for the creation of a local improvement district, including views that the developers of the nearby Heather Glen subdivision should be held accountable to follow through with street improvements as had been outlined in that housing project’s conditions of approval.

“Before any construction is initiated, the funding promised by Heather Glen development should be collected by the city and applied to the project,” said Frances Caldwell, one of five North 11th Street residents who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. “This project via an LID has had a bad smell since its inception. To my knowledge, no one who lives on North 11th Street has ever been in favor of an LID. In all its reconstructions, this LID has placed undue financial burdens on the property owners.”

City staff had previously shared various formulas and calculations that illustrated financial requirements to property owners through an LID with many projections above any comfort level.

The residents provided several perspectives to support their views on the matter. A few mentioned that they might be open to another option would also abandon the LID but require adjacent property owners to install their own sidewalks within three years.

Resident Jason Bushnell said he felt that the option that was later approved reached a good middle ground on the debate.

“It has become obvious that full street improvements are not wanted by the homeowners on 11th yet it also covers the need for safety, which was a concern in terms of using the CAMPO funds to have at least one sidewalk to the park,” Bushnell said.

City Manager Chris Workman recommended the option that was approved.

“I think it’s simple and I think we’ve heard from residents up there that they’re not interested in those street improvements at this time,” Workman said. “Maybe that changes at some point in the future but there’s other projects that the city can spend street SDC (system development charges) monies, street fund monies — we’ve got other projects we can look at.”

Councilor Catherine Biscoe followed by making a motion to abandon the North 11th improvements and use the CAMPO grant for the sidewalk.

“With a lot of different recommendations, I think this is the first one that really addresses where we are currently at,” Biscoe said. “It might not be the best way to address infrastructure issues but it does at least address the situation where we currently sit, which is we don’t have a good policy for infrastructure improvement currently established by the council.”

The motion passed on a 6-1 vote.

With the council’s action, Workman said he will connect with Heather Glen developer Phil Doud to set up a timetable for those required improvements to be completed.

Councilor Ruth Causey voted nay on the motion and instead favored another option that also abandoned the LID, but would utilize city funds to complete the full street improvements while the property owners had a three-year window to put in their own sidewalks.

“I think that would be a better outcome for the community and the city as a whole than to have the sidewalk come down one side of the street,” Causey said. “I live in a neighborhood that has a sidewalk on one side of the street and all it does is encourage me to walk in the street, so I don’t think that’s a good solution.”

Added Causey, “We have the money now to do this project … it’s not going to get any cheaper.”

If that option had been chosen, by the way, Doud would still be required to complete his company’s part of the improvements.

Workman said the funds for the North 11th Street improvements are available in the budget but Biscoe brought up a point that the city should set the money inside pending the city’s downtown streetscape improvements — a particular project that has been climbing in terms of costs.

Late in the discussion, Workman said through his conversations with Public Works, it is recommended that any sidewalk construction on the west side of the street include work to resolve storm line issues. Workman said the city would need an engineer’s estimate on those costs and that he would come back at a future meeting with that number. He added that funds for stormwater improvements are in the budget.

Without the other improvements happening, North 11th Street for now will remain on the city’s list of unimproved streets to be tackled at some point in the future.

In other news out of the June 27 meeting:

• After considerable discussion, the council unanimously approved amendments to the comprehensive plan’s chapter on housing. There were no comments during a public hearing on the matter. An ordinance is expected to go to a council vote in July or August.

• The council approved a Neighborhood Traffic Management Program after revising a Police Committee recommendation to include more specific information, including that decisions would be finalized not by the committee but by the council.

• The council approved an ordinance that updates language in the city’s transient lodging tax.

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.