City Manager Chris Workman, back to camera, answers questions from Planning Commissioner Gary Conner, center, and local resident Robert Biscoe, while they look at a map of three proposed climate-friendly areas during an open house on Tuesday night at City Hall. Taking notes at right is Nick Meltzer of Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A primary idea behind the state’s recent requirements to establish climate friendly and equitable communities comes down to cities creating areas where vehicle use becomes unnecessary as part of an effort to ultimately meet Oregon’s climate pollution reduction targets.

In Philomath, steps have been taken in recent years to ease into that direction even before the state requirements became a reality. The city’s downtown project, for example, was designed in part to encourage folks to get out of their cars and enjoy a walkable corridor that includes stores, restaurants, offices and other businesses.

To learn more about the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities project, go online to the city’s website.

“I really just think this is in line with a lot of the changes that Philomath’s already starting to make and what we’re seeing statewide,” Philomath City Manager Chris Workman said Tuesday night following an open house at City Hall that broke down the details involved with creating a Climate Friendly Area, or CFA. “It’s a little bit higher density and trying to focus that density into your downtown areas and your commercial districts so you’ve got more mixed use.”

Sixteen years ago, Oregon’s lawmakers established a goal to reduce the state’s climate pollution by 75% by 2050. Little progress was made in those areas in the following years and former Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order in 2020 directing state agencies to implement a plan to reduce and regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) established a rulemaking committee to consult on revisions to land-use rules. Nick Meltzer and Justin Peterson of Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments were in Philomath for the open house to provide analyses and answer questions.

Cities that fit the criteria — those that have a population of 5,000 or more and are part of the one of the state’s eight identified “metropolitan areas” of 50,000-plus residents — are required to plan for mixed-use climate-friendly areas where residents, workers and visitors can meet most of their daily needs without the need to drive a vehicle.

“People can work closer to where they live and live closer to where they work, utilize public transit a little more often and try to reduce their footprint and their costs,” Workman said.

The climate-friendly areas can be a mix of high-density housing, businesses and services in locations such as downtown and main streets. The areas would be created through changes in a city’s development code.

“We’re already kind of headed in that direction — this is just coming down from the state to say these are things now that you have to do, not just things that would be good for you to do,” Workman said. “We’re working through the process, looking at DLCD to give us additional guidelines on how to implement some of these things.”

There are several requirements connected to the establishment of a CFA and the open house included three options for residents to consider. Each site is a minimum of 25 acres in size and within walking distance of parks, city services, the library and public transportation. Access to bike lanes and pedestrian pathways are also included.

Philomath’s three proposed sites include a downtown corridor of 31.6 acres, an area of 27.8 acres between North 12th and 19th along College Street and an area of 32.75 acres from Seventh to 16th between Main and Applegate.

Workman provided an idea for a fourth in an area adjacent to Main Street that runs roughly from 20th Street east to Clemens Mill Road but it’s uncertain if that will be presented as an option.

“Any new development in the area is going to have this mixed use look to it,” Workman said. “You’re not displacing any current residents, you’re not worried about old businesses getting remodeled.”

A small group of individuals who attended the open house provided some comments and asked questions after listening to a presentation and looking at proposed CFA maps. A few more watched online with the program live-streamed.

“By and large, I think the long-term impacts that we’re going to see in Philomath will likely be beneficial for the city,” Workman said. “But there’ll be some winners and some losers along the way. That’s the hard part about any types of these policies — it’s going to benefit some property owners and it’s going to hurt others.”

The city plans to publish a survey for residents who would like to provide “their feedback on the different proposals, benefits that they see, concerns that they have about any of them,” Workman said.

After collecting data from the surveys, Workman said the city will then start looking at each area’s infrastructure requirements.

“We’ve got some areas in town where we know we need infrastructure but don’t have the funds for it and that may come into consideration of what area gets selected,” Workman said. “We don’t want to select an area that’s completely burdened by failing infrastructure.”

Another factor to be considered relates to the potential for the displacement of residents that could result from the designation.

“Then we’ll start trying to settle on a CFA and what it looks like,” Workman said. “We’ll put that out to the community and get feedback on it as well.”

Brad Fuqua

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.