City Council outlines Sweet Home’s future goals

Benny Westcott

By Benny Westcott

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home City Council prepared for the future Tuesday, April 25, first by adopting a resolution outlining goals for the 2023-24 fiscal year, then by expanding its scope to examine how the city may look in the next two decades.

Among its more immediate goals, the council hopes, infrastructure-wise, to complete a transportation system plan and develop a parks master plan. It also plans to create an online dashboard for city goals, review franchise agreement fees and develop revenue-generating ideas.

The city seeks to rejuvenate essential services by obtaining funding and creating bid documents for upgrades to the Mahler Water Reclamation Facility, which include a new backwash pump and variable-frequency drive controllers and the replacement of a failed raw-water control valve in the plant’s intake building; build a vehicle-charging station on 10th Avenue, which the council further explored later in the meeting; find and develop funding for an 8th Avenue water-main replacement; and chip-seal two miles of roads.

To aid with economic strength, the council looks to develop a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the potential future development of a Foster Lake Train Station, as well as the first phase of a downtown streetscape plan and the establishment of a program for obtaining grants.

Regarding image-building, the city seeks to find a location and obtain funding for a new public library; complete the first phase of Quarry Park, which would entail opening the land for camping and kayaking; improve Sankey Park with a new bandstand to replace an historic structure razed in 2021 due to its dangerous condition and the infeasibility of its rehabilitation; and create a traffic officer plan.

Later, the council voted unanimously to conduct the first reading of an ordinance amending a portion of the city’s comprehensive plan and adopting a housing needs analysis completed through a grant from Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Among the analysis’ findings:

— Sweet Home’s population is expected to grow at 0.69% per year over the next two decades, adding 1,571 new residents. This will require 632 new dwelling units over a 20-year period. The forecast housing mix is expected to consist of 460 single-family detached homes, 42 townhomes/plexes, 45 multifamily housing units and 85 manufactured housing units.

— The share of those making 80% or less of Linn County’s median family income level ($51,600) was 58% of Sweet Home’s households in 2020.

— More than 1 in 4 renter households in the city are severely rent-burdened, with more than 50% of that income going toward monthly housing costs.

— Net new housing needs over the next 20 years will require 169 acres of buildable residential land. Currently, Sweet Home’s urban growth boundary includes 610 such acres across categories that allow for residential development. The housing needs analysis indicates that the current Sweet Home urban growth boundary is sufficient to accommodate future housing needs.

The ordinance add 12 residential land-use policies to the city’s comprehensive plan on the analysis’ recommendation.

Those include a marketing campaign to increase awareness and participation in green-energy tax credit programs to provide assistance for homeowners and renters assistance to upgrade their homes to become more energy-efficient. They would also streamline the permitting process to reduce cost and delay of new housing units and use the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer mapping tool to identify the wildland-urban interface and wildfire risk at the property ownership level.

In other business:

— Council President Pro Tem Greg Mahler asked Sweet Home Police Chief Jason Ogden about an incident that day in which he called 911 after a man suffered a heart attack and no one answered. He tried again with the same result.

Central dispatch (the Linn County 911 dispatch at the Sheriff’s Office) finally called back at what Mahler felt was at least five minutes later. According to him, the dispatcher reportedly said, “We noticed that you were calling into 911. Did you have an emergency?”, asked questions, then dispatched an ambulance.

“Fortunately, this gentleman wasn’t in full cardiac arrest,” Mahler said, adding that the Sweet Home Fire & Ambulance District has had ongoing communication issues with dispatch, which used to be internal before that work was contracted out.

“Ever since that, it has not been the greatest, especially from the fire and medical service end of things,” he said. “If you leave Sweet Home and head just to Foster Lake and start going any further behind that, we might as well say goodbye to central dispatch. It’s done. We just might as well send smoke signals and have a nice day.”

He suggested further discussions about the city’s future dispatch needs to enhance and improve local emergency services.

“It’s something I think we need to look at,” Mahler said. “Because times have changed, and we need to improve our services here at the east Linn County end. We are isolated, and we have situations where we’re not supporting our folks out here to the level we need to.

“I’m not blaming central dispatch, because if they can’t hear us, they can’t hear us. But there’s some things that we need to evaluate so we can improve that whole process. And if it means bringing it in internally to us, that’s something we need to look at.”

— The council voted unanimously to approve a $194,200 contract with North Santiam Paving Company, of Stayton, for the installation of an electric vehicle charging station on 10th Avenue between Main and Long streets.

The city received a $200,000 grant for the station late last year, and the council approved the grant agreement in December. The following month a request for proposals was issued for site construction and equipment installation. Four proposals were received and reviewed, with the city beginning negotiations with North Santiam in March 2023.

All the proposal estimates exceeded the city’s budget, requiring a reduction in the project’s scope from a charging station capable of charging two vehicles simultaneously to a single vehicle but designed to accommodate up to three more chargers.

Staff plan to submit additional grant applications for chargers and expect that the work identified in the contract, once completed, will make future applications competitive.

— The council voted unanimously to approve Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen’s application to name a Sankey Park plaza area in honor of recently retired City Engineer Joe Graybill, who worked for Sweet Home for 26 years.

Larsen wrote that Graybill “made significant contributions to the livability of the city by working to improve public infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks, and parks. Much of his work involved going above and beyond his assigned duties as he worked to bring improvements to his community.”

The vote directed staff to schedule a public hearing on the matter.

— Family Assistance and Resource Center Program Manager Brock Byers delivered a report on the city’s managed outreach and community resource center.

“This absolutely wouldn’t have occurred without your contributions and help,” he told city officials, crediting Linn County for providing land, Weyerhaeuser for hut-building donations and Sweet Home High School students for constructing the site’s huts.

“We had so many community members, volunteers and people come out to support us,” he said. “It has been very helpful. For being one of the most conservative communities in Oregon, we are the most progressive, I believe, in addressing homelessness in this community, at least one aspect of it.”

“Thank you for sticking with the city of Sweet Home,” Mayor Susan Coleman said.

“I know it was a rocky beginning, but we are grateful that you stuck with it and that we are able to do this service for our community members. I know that it’s been seen as progressive in many ways, but we are just glad to see people taken care of in a healthy, responsible way.”

Councilor Lisa Gourley thanked Byers and FAC Executive Director Shirley Byrd for their community work.

“I don’t think it’s really known that these individuals that put in so much of their lives are not being compensated for that work,” Gourley said. “We’re very fortunate to have that, and we’re truly blessed.”

“It’s beautiful out there [at the facility],” Councilor Angelita Sanchez added. “And what you’re doing for the residents, I’m appreciative of it. Even though I was the biggest adversary, I’m thankful for what you guys are doing.”

n The council voted unanimously to conduct the first reading of an ordinance that would change the zoning of a 5.18-acre property west of Clark Mill Road to allow for the planned construction of an apartment building complex with a large, residents-only fitness center.

Applicant Eric Lund’s proposed change alters the zoning from residential low (R-1) to high density (R-3), bringing the zoning into conformity with the property’s existing comprehensive plan map designation.

— Coleman proclaimed May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

“Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being,” she said. “All Americans experience times of difficulty and stress in their lives, and promotion and prevention are effective ways to reduce the burden of mental health conditions. There is a strong body of research that supports user-friendly tools that all Americans can access to better handle challenges and protect their health and well-being.

“Linn County, as well as the nation as a whole, is finally returning to normal after an infectious disease outbreak,” she added. “It is important to remember that feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed or powerless remain as common problems and are quite normal. By limiting media consumption, staying connected with loved ones and staying active we can maintain our mental health as we try to protect our physical health.”

— Coleman proclaimed May 4 as a National Day of Prayer.

“Throughout history, Americans have lifted up fervent prayers to God on behalf of our nation,” she said.

“Every first Thursday of May, on the National Day of Prayer, we not only express our faith and exercise our freedom in prayer but unite our hearts and voices in personal prayer and public gatherings throughout our city and across our America with fervent praise, repentance, love, and humble intercession for our neighbor and nation, holding fast to the promises throughout the Holy Scriptures that the Lord hears and helps those who call to Him.”

— Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center Executive Director Lagea Mull presented the chamber’s tri-annual report.

She reported that the chamber had 24 tourist-related visitors from December 2022 to March 2023, noting, “It’s not that time of year when we’re going to have an uptick. It really was mostly chamber business that happened.”

Some 29 calls regarding tourism were made to the chamber during that period, with the rest devoted to “chamber business.”

The chamber’s website had over 1,600 hits over those four months, with most eyes on the calendar.

“This is why it’s so important for our members and the community to have their events on our calendar, because that’s our biggest thing,” Mull said. “That’s what people are looking for. They want to know what’s going on in town.”

A rockhounding section on the site received 497 hits.

“Those rock nerds are all over that website,” she said, adding that she spoke at the Sweet Home Rock and Mineral Show with Sweet Home Rock and Mineral Society members, who actually meet in Lebanon, and said, “Hey, guys, come back to Sweet Home. We have so many unique rocks that we can find in our area.”

The chamber also added 164 new Facebook followers during the four-month period.

She noted that the Chamber Board added Vance Monroe of Radiator Supply House during that time frame. “He’s been a great asset,” she said.

She also shared that she was appointed to the Linn Economic Development Group Board of Directors.

“It’s great because the other cities are saying they’re out of land, and I get to sit in those meetings and say we’ve got a bunch,” Mull said. “And they were stunned at the amount of acreage we have in Sweet Home for industry. The fact that I can be a voice for Sweet Home has been an exciting thing.”

Mull said that chamber membership was up 35% as of the city council meeting.

— Voted unanimously to adopt city procurement rules and city asset policy and procedure.