City loading up to streamline building, take on park

Sean C. Morgan

With a personnel shift and funding in hand, the City of Sweet Home is putting into action its plans to improve Sankey Park.

The park improvements are among several changes and efforts in the Community and Economic Development Department to address various City Council goals.

Another change is streamlining the process for accessing building and planning services. Those needing such services can now find them in the same room in City Hall instead of marching up and down the stairs between the two offices on different floors.

Along with that change, the Community and Economic Development Department is adding part-time positions this fiscal year to assist with various projects, and Senior Engineering Technician Joe Graybill has moved from Public Works to the Community and Economic Development Department, primarily to focus on the development of Sankey Park.

“We’ve always been interlinked,” said Jerry Sorte, Community and Economic Development Department director. Planning and Public Works, we flow together. We have to work together.”

Building and planning, both of which have been part of the same department for several years, interact frequently, Sorte said. The new office arrangement allows the employees to learn from each other and improve flexibility. The cross training will help provide service coverage when employees are on vacation.

Moving Graybill, who now works in the planning office, will allow the department to focus on developing the community’s vision for Sankey Park.

“Joe is great,” Sorte said. “Joe is being flexible. I appreciate that. He’s working under Community and Economic Development, but it’s important to reiterate, he’ll support Public Works as well.”

Graybill, a Sweet Home native, has been senior engineering technician, part of the Public Works Department, since May 1996.

“Where we’re at with the Park and Tree Committee, there’s been a continued desire to move forward,” Sorte said. The City Council budgeted $150,000 for capital improvements in the parks this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The council adopted a concept plan for Sankey Park created by the University of Oregon Planning Workshop in 2016. The planners conducted several community outreach programs to collect community input about the park.

With the lifting of a spending freeze recently, Sorte said, the department is moving forward, and Graybill is tasked with making things happen at the park, following some initial moves.

“We’d like to take those next steps,” Sorte said. “The mobile home is gone. It’s opened things up, and everything looks nicer.”

The next step, under way this week, is to remove diseased and dying trees and to thin the stand of trees at Sankey Park, Sorte said.

The city took out some “very dangerous” trees three or four years ago, Graybill said, but about 47 more trees need to come down.

“The big picture, we’re trying to promote the health of that stand for its long-term viability and safety,” Sorte said.

After that, the first phase of improvements will require Planning Commission approvals and permits, Graybill said.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for a conditional use permit for Sankey Park at 7 p.m. on May 7, Sorte said. Neighbors will receive notice, and everyone can come and comment on the plan. A map and descriptions will be available and may be found on the city’s website prior to the hearing.

Once the city has a conditional use permit, the city can begin moving forward with capital improvements, Sorte said.

“Joe’s established three different phases for development,” Sorte said. “It’s possible that things will have to be moved depending on the budget.”

He said the city also will seek grant funding to help pay for the improvements.

“In the first phase, the primary element is a replacement of the restroom facility,” Graybill said. The restrooms will be demolished, with new ones built closer to Weddle Bridge. Other features will include a new plaza and parking around Weddle Bridge; new trails connecting Sankey Park with Upper Sankey Park and the BMX course; and improvements to the BMX course.

“Parking and good access is basically how you get people to a park,” Graybill said.

The second phase will include additional work on trails along Ames Creek, he said. Additional parking along 14th Avenue will be part of the second or third phase.

Phase Three will develop trails on the hillside behind the bandstand, he said. The city also must decide what to do with Dahlenburg Bridge.

City staff will consider whether to move Dahlenburg Bridge, which overlooks Ames Creek west of Weddle Bridge, to another location, Graybill said. In either case, the location will be developed into a viewpoint with informational signs and better access.

A new bridge will cross Ames Creek between Sankey Park and the Jim Riggs Community Center, he said. That is scheduled for the third phase but its construction could be moved up.

The city received a $30,000 donation four or five years ago to help build the bridge, Sorte said.

“The bottom line is we want to move forward with that bridge and if possible, expedite it.”

City staff also are considering a restroom in Upper Sankey.

The park is Graybill’s primary focus, Sorte said. Second is engineering and third is “everything else.”

Among the “everything else,” Sorte plans to use Graybill in economic development.

“The City Council has designated a significant amount of money to economic development,” Sorte said.

Graybill has been involved in economic development, serving on the boards of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group and the Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m going to use Joe as much as possible (for economic development),” Sorte said. “We need to first move forward with our Commercial Exterior Improvement Program.”

City staff needs to discuss and write up the details of the program, similar to a grant program offered by the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort until funding dried up. SHARE had been supported by proceeds from the Oregon Jamboree, owned and operated by SHEDG.

The department is seeking input on the new exterior improvement program, Sorte said. One of the questions right now is whether it should and how it should provide incentives for adhering to a theme or specific palette of colors.

“I’m going to find a way to involve Joe,” Sorte said.