Planning commissioner has city, Peace Corps experience

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Having had a little previous experience as a city planner, Lance Gatchell thought it would be interesting to serve on Sweet Home’s Planning Commission.

The City Council appointed him to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Karen Billings during its regular meeting on Oct. 23.

Gatchell is a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home Ranger District.

He moved to Sweet Home with his wife, Stefanie Gatchell, from Newport in May. She also works for Sweet Home Ranger District and was appointed to serve on the city Parks Board.

As a hydrologist, he is a specialist in the water systems on the forest and deals with issues related to how Forest Service actions will affect the water. Right now, he said, the Willamette National Forest is trying to get some restoration projects going.

He worked as a city planner in Newport for five months before moving to Sweet Home. Prior to that, the Gatchells lived in Morocco, working with the Peace Corps.

Gatchell grew up in Cottage Grove and then attended Oregon State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1992. He earned his master’s degree in bioresource engineering in 1996.

He started working in hydrology in Palau in the Micronesian Islands and then worked on the Oregon coast, helping restore rivers for salmon in the Newport area. From there, he went on to Morocco, where he helped develop a new national park.

“Nobody really knew it was a national park,” Gatchell said. His work included making maps, signs, developing hiking routes along old mule trails, all the trappings of a park.

“We were working on getting it recognizable as a park,” he said.

After returning to Newport, he worked “as a planner for the city, which was something I’d never done before,” he said. That’s what prompted him to apply for the Planning Commission in Sweet Home.

“I was interested in Oregon planning, and I hadn’t known much about it before,” Gatchell said. “I enjoyed it. I kind of missed it. I think it’s good that there is planning in Oregon that’s well thought out.”

There are plenty of examples of what happens when there is no planning, he said.

As far as planning Sweet Home’s growth, “I really don’t know what the issues are yet,” he said. “It kind of depends on the community, I would think.”

In Newport, the issue was development on cliffs and the danger associated with houses falling off the cliffs, he said. In Sweet Home, “it seems that the town has a lot of people who like nature, the outdoors.”

With good planning, Sweet Home can preserve some of the natural beauty and maintain parks and open spaces to meet the needs of the population developing here, he said.

He is enjoying Sweet Home, he said. “It’s really nice. That’s why we moved here.”

It has nice green hills, the reservoir close by and friendly people, he said. “It seems like a very friendly place.”

He and his wife have no children. They enjoy visiting with friends, potlucks, hikes, bike riding and camping in the summertime.