Philomath’s housing market has expanded in recent years as the community continues to grow. In particular, the Millpond Crossing and Heather Glen developments have been mentioned for different reasons during City Council meetings over the past several months.

The topic is an important one for the city and voters might wonder where the nine candidates stand on this issue moving forward.

This is the third of a five-part series of questions and answers to be published this week at PhilomathNews.com. The nine candidates running for the Philomath City Council include incumbents Jessica Andrade, Catherine Biscoe, Ruth Causey, Matt Lehman, David Low and Teresa Nielson, and challengers Diane Crocker, Christopher McMorran and Peggy Yoder.

For more information, the Benton County Elections Office uploaded each candidate’s filing form. Information on the forms include details on occupation, educational background and prior governmental experience. Click here for Andrade. Click here for Biscoe. Click here for Causey. Click here for Crocker. Click here for Lehman. Click here for Low. Click here for McMorran. Click here for Nielson. Click here for Yoder.

In addition, the Benton County Voters’ Pamphlet is available here.

This is the third of five questions asked of the candidates. Each candidate was allowed no more than 200 words for each individual answer with no exceptions. Answers were edited only for punctuation and typos and to conform to newspaper style guidelines (abbreviations, capitalization, etc.).

Housing developments have been a major issue in Philomath over the past few years. What’s your perspective on what the city needs to do moving forward to avoid some of the pitfalls that have been seen?

YODER: The Planning Commission is in the process of evaluating our housing goals and policies, which cover topics like affordable, accessible housing and higher density housing in the downtown core, to name a few. Community members should always feel welcome to talk to their Planning Commission or City Council to voice their opinions.

I’ve been on the Planning Commission since 2019 and from my perspective communication between city staff and the commission has improved over the last couple of years. We now receive monthly updates regarding ongoing projects that are happening in Philomath, even if it doesn’t directly involve the Planning Commission. This update helps to eliminate future surprises.

Millpond Crossing has been in the news enough by now, that most people know errors were made. The 2018 zoning change from light industrial (which was earlier changed from heavy industrial) and then to residential should not have been approved before thorough environmental testing was complete.

The duties of “planning official” should belong to the city planner, not to the city manager as it is now. Had this change already taken place, the approval given to the Millpond developer to build houses before surveyor pins were set would not have happened.

NIELSON: Moving forward requires purposeful, reflective contemplation and accountability regarding knowledge gained from the successes and challenges experienced in prior housing developments. I fully support and endorse the expansion of more effective communication methods and policies in regard to current and future housing developments. This is paramount in striving to avoid the difficulties of the past. It is also critical to strengthen the relationship and communication between city government and community members. This is the path to which I are currently engaged.

It is the role of city government to evaluate our city’s housing policies through land use regulation, permitting processes and zoning to create a long-term pattern for success. There are additional numerous elements to consider in regard to housing developments, such as: access to sustainable homeownership, improving housing quality and safety, and engaging the public in helping to define our city’s housing needs and objectives.

Finally, increased transparency and accountability through measurable objectives are steps that will provide clear direction and momentum as we go forward in future housing developments.

MCMORRAN: The issues with some of our recent housing developments are serious. No Philomath family should live in fear of unsafe methane buildups in their homes, and no residents should be put on the hook for civic improvements that developers committed to pay for.

These issues point to a larger set of concerns: communication, transparency and accountability.

Communication: I may sound like a broken record, but our City Council must do a better job of proactive communication. By simply listening to our residents and asking them what they think before making a decision, we could avoid many of the pitfalls we’ve seen.

Transparency: By making it easier for residents to access city records and for councilors to be fully informed, we can improve communication and ensure that these crucial issues do not fall through the cracks.

Accountability: When something goes wrong, it’s the council’s job as your elected representatives to fix it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. That includes holding responsible parties accountable for their mistakes. That doesn’t mean public shaming or name-calling, but it does mean firm, professional measures taken with those who may have caused harm to our community. That’s the least we can do as your leaders.

LOW: First, voters should realize two major apartment complexes, a subdivision and many infill houses have proceeded without public notoriety. This demonstrates the competency of the city in permitting housing infrastructure.

This question stating housing developments have been a major issue is too open ended for any meaningful response within a 200-word allowance. Suffice it to say, media reports do not tell the whole story. Most controversial situations are more complicated than meets the eye.

It’s understandable anyone caught up in an unresolved event feels frustrated, angry and powerless. I’ve experienced similar emotions when caught in the middle of something beyond my control. It sucks.     

Like any well-run organization, the city needs to apply a “lessons learned” approach to all cases where a project or effort does not turn out the way it was envisioned. 

LEHMAN: There has been a high demand for housing throughout Oregon for the past decade or longer. Many of the “choice” parcels to develop new housing have already been developed, which drives up the cost of the remaining undeveloped parcels. That increases the attractiveness of less desirable parcels for future development, including infill into former industrial and agricultural sites.

I do not believe it is realistic to expect smooth sailing when developing less than ideal properties, but we also have to maintain a balance between the desire for infill development and redevelopment with public safety.

CROCKER: There have been many issues with housing development over the years and the first step is to acknowledge that. From there, learn from mistakes and work hard to make sure they are not repeated. I do believe there is progress being made with our current issues, but for most the progress seems much too slow. Part of that is process and procedure that may or may not have been clearly communicated.

I believe we need to continue to find solutions to our current issues and work hard to anticipate future ones. As a mom and teacher, I often found myself thinking … what could go wrong, how will I prevent that and how will I deal with unexpected and unwanted surprises? Thinking ahead and being prepared for the unexpected is part of the planning. Communication is always a proactive policy.

Sometimes, though, we must realize that legally and ethically some things must be held in confidentiality and while I realize that may not be popular, if the shoe were on the other foot, confidentiality would be appreciated.

CAUSEY: Philomath has undergone rapid and significant growth in the last 10 years, initially with Oak Springs and The Boulevard apartments, followed by Millpond Crossing and Newton Creek Estates housing developments. Infill and new housing also continues in other parts of the city, as well as expanded business and healthcare facilities with the RV park, Northernwood and the relocation of Philomath Family Medicine. We are fortunate to have a community that attracts growth and development, but it has become incredibly challenging to maintain the small-town, rural feel of Philomath.

As the economy slows, we must stop and address some of the underlying issues that could detract from the quality of life we have here. Millpond Crossing requires specialized DEQ oversight which is beyond the city’s resources and purview. Beyond this, we need to ensure we have the facilities and infrastructure to support the growth we have experienced.

For example, ensuring our police force is adequately compensated, so we aren’t losing officers to nearby communities. Targeting and addressing unsafe areas like North Ninth Street, North 11th Street and 16th Street. Securing adequate funding to replace and maintain our infrastructure and supporting our downtown businesses while the streetscapes project is underway.

BISCOE: Housing developments will remain a part of Philomath’s future. Solutions to recent pitfalls troubling the city will involve better communication, greater transparency, established policies and better implementation of development procedures. The recent council’s lack of oversight and communication over development actions taken by the city have been costly, consuming staff time and resources that could have better served Philomath if spent elsewhere.

The Planning Commission’s role in housing development applications is to carefully review criteria and craft conditions of approval, providing a safeguarded path of approval for a development. It is assumed applications are factually complete and that conditions of approval will be followed. Anything less is a failure to honor the time and votes of the commission and the trust of the people established through the public hearing process.

In looking ahead, it is essential for the well-being, safety, health and financial security of all of Philomath, that the council assess current development criteria, policies and procedures, and consider a pathway to ensure that procedures are followed as intended and without interpretation. This will ensure all developments and developers are treated the same and that outcomes are predictable and safe for homeowners. 

ANDRADE: The city needs to take the necessary time to approve housing developments the right way. Yes, we need more housing, and we also need to do our due diligence to avoid harming our community members during this process.

We don’t need to rush — the current City Council’s meetings are nearly always rushed and emphasis on particular agenda item topics is often misplaced, leading to a perpetual cycle of rushing through important issues. When this happens, mistakes get made and oversight of those who make the decisions does not happen. This can lead to injustices to members of our community.

I believe that a comprehensive review of city policies must be made to identify ways of preventing these injustices from happening in the first place. Furthermore, allowing more time for the process to occur will naturally allow city governance the ability to provide more information to the public and to share it in more accessible formats.

Coming Thursday: City government transparency concerns seem to occasionally surface. Do you believe transparency is an issue? If so, what would you do to fix it? If not, what do you think the city is doing that’s working?

CANDIDATES Q-and-A
PUBLISHED
Monday, Oct. 17: What do you envision as the role of a city councilor and what do you believe constitutes appropriate and effective citizen representation?
Tuesday, Oct. 18: What is your top priority for this city over the length of your public service?
Wednesday, Oct. 19: Housing developments have been a major issue in Philomath over the past few years. What’s your perspective on what the city needs to do moving forward to avoid some of the pitfalls that have been seen?
COMING
Thursday, Oct. 20: City government transparency concerns seem to occasionally surface. Do you believe transparency is an issue? If so, what would you do to fix it? If not, what do you think the city is doing that’s working?
Friday, Oct. 21: Many in the community believe that the candidates have associated themselves with certain other candidates whether it’s through advertising, yard signs or other means. What are your thoughts on these perceived alliances, including the pros and cons of this election strategy?

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.