After 35 years at commission helm, Meyers calls it quits

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Planning Commission Chairman Dick Meyers has made it his mission to help people understand what’s going on, why and find middle ground that addresses the concerns of everyone involved in planning decisions.

Meyers, 69, resigned after serving for 38 years on the Planning Commission, 35 of them as chairman. He joined the Planning Commission just after Senate Bill 100 went into effect and implemented an Oregon state planning system in 1973. City officials believe he is the longest-serving planning commissioner in the state.

He became chairman when the previous chairman resigned to take a seat on the City Council in 1976, he said. Meyers had been serving as vice chairman.

Meyers came to the position after working as a lobbyist for the Homebuilders Association. He actually worked with the legislature on SB 100.

What came out of it was a good plan to zone all of the land in the state, he said. Then bureaucrats in Salem got carried away writing rules.

“The one thing that goes away when somebody like that retires – not only the longevity and valued commitment – is the experience and knowledge that goes with him,” said Mayor Craig Fentiman. “That’s something you can’t regain or get back.”

“I thought I had a deal with him that he wouldn’t retire till I did,” said Community Development Director Carol Lewis, who serves as the city’s planner, but after 38 years, she guessed he had a right to.

“He understood how we got here and tried to impart that to us and use that as part of our decision-making process,” Lewis said. “He was here from the very beginning.”

He understands the planning process, she said. “He understands people and the needs people have. I thought that was really good.”

“I think he did a fine job for us, and we certainly appreciate all his efforts over the years and wish him the best in retirement,” Fentiman said.

“Thirty-eight years should be long enough for anyone,” Meyers said, noting he has been on the commission for more than half his life. “I think that was probably appropriate. I’m cutting back on a lot of things I’m doing, spending more time with family.”

“I have enjoyed the time and especially all the fine volunteers who have served with me over the years,” Meyers said. “I know I will miss the monthly meetings and the challenges, but I hope to enjoy the time off even more.”

The function of the Planning Commission has changed a great deal over the years, Meyers said. “I feel we are doing less ‘planning’ and more reaction to changes and forces outside our community.”

It’s gone from planning the community toward administering laws on the books and doing what the state tells the local jurisdictions, Meyers said. It was a lot more flexible and localized when he started.

He has enjoyed the planning process, he said. The commission has sometimes had a revolving door of members, often losing them to the City Council, but not Meyers.

“I like the work not the politics,” Meyers said, and that’s why he has been interested in the Planning Commission rather than the council.

“I look at Sweet Home today, and while there have been mistakes and numerous things I would like to have seen accomplished, I feel satisfied that overall, the planning process has been beneficial to the community and the people as a whole.

“I got most of what I wanted done. There were still some things we were working on that I’d like to see through to fruition.”

But that is something younger, able-bodied commissioners can do, he said. “It was an ongoing thing.”

Meyers said his greatest accomplishment has not been making everyone happy. In the emotional and personal arenas of land use, that’s an impossible task. Rather it has been helping the participants feel they were heard, understood and treated fairly, and he hopes the commission has helped the public understand a little more about land use and the planning process.

“It was a very enjoyable time,” Meyers said. “There were times I came home frustrated that people didn’t understand what we were trying to do.”

Other times, they might take the Planning Commission’s decisions personally, he said.

“We may not make everybody happy, but at least we wanted them to understand the how and the why.”

Often, the planning commissioners didn’t like the decisions they had to make based on a state law or even a local ordinance, he said. In any case, “they were heard. We listened and took note of their issues.”

Frequently, opponents to a proposal might do better if they cooperate with the developer, Meyers said. In one case, a beautiful duplex was proposed for a large lot, but the neighbors fought it. What could have been allowed outright under the ordinance could have been much more negative for the neighbors.

If the opponents can articulate their actual concerns and work with developers, he said, it can often be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

Meyers often refereed between such parties, asking what might work for each side and finding out whether certain conditions might be acceptable to each.

“If they could work with him everybody could come out of there happy,” he said. “Again, it has been fun, even with the long, drawn-out meetings, the controversies and the struggles with state and federal interference. I hope I have been able to make the process a little more enjoyable for others.”

Meyers last official act was to serve as chairman during the August meeting.

Meyers owns Outdoor Sales and Marketing Group, which publishes hunting and fishing regulations. He has worked as a disc jockey.