City Council gives go-ahead to farmworker apartment complex

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Lebanon City Council members voted Sept. 23, in a special session, to deny an appeal of a Planning Commission approval of a housing development for agricultural workers in Lebanon.
The Farmworker Housing Development Corporation applied in May to develop an affordable apartment complex consisting of 24 units at Weldwood Drive.
After a two-month public comment period, the Planning Commission approved the application. A group referred to as the White Oaks neighbors, appealed, noting that the project is the first phase of a larger planned development by Farmworkers Housing Development – though future phases have not yet been applied for.
The appellants said the the city did not identify the project as a phased plan, thus allowing the applicant to avoid and violate provisions under city code.
The full development would be a 110-unit, three-story residential space on 9.3 acres. The city responded there is yet no “phased” plan proposed or under consideration, and any future development would be subject to review and approval.
Heather Balzomo spoke on behalf of White Oaks neighbors at the Sept. 23 hearing.
“We understand and support the growth of Lebanon, but want it to be done in a thoughtful and responsible manner with consideration for the needs of current residents as well as prospective residents,” Balzomo said.
She further stated they actively pursued communication with the Farmers Housing Development Corporation to discuss possible compromises, but only received one response late in the process stating FHDC will only communicate with them through planning commission proceedings only.
“Relationships were further damaged with FHDC when they solicited support from the Lebanon community teachers and community groups by falsely labeling our neighborhood and neighbors as a very vocal anti-immigrant group,” she said.
The accusation is false and offensive, and is a dishonest tactic to gain support, Balzomo said.
The White Oaks neighbors expressed concern, not about the 24-unit project, they said, but about the planned development of 110 units, which will significantly impact the environmental impact on school capacities, traffic, community resources, noise, and surrounding neighborhoods, she said.
Ronn Passmore, a White Oaks neighbor, added that FHDC purchased the 9.3 acres for the purpose of development that will ultimately house approximately 400 individuals, and was perplexed by how the planning commission could allow the property to be broken into three parcels, thus allowing FHDC to avoid city codes that require different rules of approval.
He noted he is in support of growth in Lebanon, and appreciates FHDC’s willingness to invest in the city, but believes the development application should be followed appropriately.
Kelly Hart, community development director, responded by pointing out recent and current developments in Lebanon.
The Mill Race development on the north end of the city is a large, mixed-use project that triggers the criteria within the development code, she said.
The McKinney Lane apartments off Russell Drive got approval for, and completed, Phase 1 of the project, and recently was approved for Phase 2.
That developer wasn’t ready for Phase 2 until recently, and was thus required to submit an application for that phase and go through the necessarily process again, she said.
“Even if we know that there’s a desire or wish for them to build something, they’re not proposing it to us, which means we don’t have the ability to trigger them to do the planned development and they don’t fall under the criteria to require a planned development,” Hart said.
Also on Sept. 23, the council approved a motion to award an emergency contract to coat the aerobic digester at the wastewater treatment plant.
After city staff assumed operations and maintenance responsibilities at the wastewater treatment plant, they began inspections to assess the condition of the aerobic digester, and discovered its concrete walls are in need of critical repair.
City staff requested quotes from three contractors to coat the digester walls. Only one responded with a quote that went $21,000 above allowed bids for immediate work, said Ron Whitlatch, engineering services director.
Under ORS 279B.080, Whitlatch requested the council approve an emergency contract in order to get the digester up and running again before the rainy season hits.

The council met again Oct. 14 for its regular monthly meeting.
New interim City Manager Nancy Brewer gave her first city manager’s report, encouraging people to take advantage of Lebanon voter’s pamphlet, available on the city’s website, and to subscribe to the Lebanon Public Library’s new YouTube channel.
Brewer said she has had discussions with Matt Apken, finance director, about monies available for utility assistance.
“The general consensus has been that it cannot be just city’s money for city water, but it may be a program we can put together with a third party who would help people who have been laid off due to Covid with their utilities,” Brewer said. “We would structure this as probably gas, electric and water to work with a third party to help some people get caught up.”
Brewer also stated the next agenda will probably include an intergovernmental agreement with the state to sell surplus property. A 2002 LINX bus “beyond its useful life” can be listed on the state’s auction site, saving time and effort for city administration, she said.
In other action, the council:
♦ Approved an application to annex property at 1773 9th St., which will be zoned residential mixed density;
♦ Approved an application to annex property at 955 Kees St., which will be zoned residential mixed density; and
♦ Approved an ordinance to vacate an easement on the north end of Mill Street.