Council votes to grant liquor license to Rio Theatre

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

The Sweet Home City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11, voted 5-1 to recommend granting an Oregon Liquor Control Commission “Full On-Premises” liquor license to the Rio Theatre.

The group had decided at its Sept. 27 meeting to ask theater owners Erika and Thomas Banham to re-propose their request with more information. Both were present Oct. 11 to address questions.

Councilor Angelita Sanchez expressed concerns about what she called “government overreach” in the council’s decision to delay the vote.

“I’m sorry that this has been delayed by another two weeks,” she said. “It looks like you applied in March, and the OLCC must have approved something on July 12. And now we have … dragged our feet on this for two more weeks. I’m very sorry that you guys have had to come in here and wait to have more money coming into your business when you’ve been struggling.”

Councilor Diane Gerson was one of the five councilors who voted for the license. She approved of the cautionary measures the Bahams intended to enact for alcohol sales. These include a cut-off time for sales one hour before a show ended, a two-drink maximum limit and the use of clear cups with lids instead of the opaque cups the theater uses for sodas. Patrons who purchase alcohol would also be required to wear wristbands.

The Sweet Home Police Department’s investigation into the Bahams’ application determined that the Rio has an automated system consisting of alcohol input devices positioned high on the concession area’s west wall. Two alcohol-dispensing machines would automatically measure and pour beverages at an employee’s discretion. These devices would hold liquor bottles upside down and allow for the controlled transfer of alcohol. During the Oct. 11 meeting, interim Police Chief Jason Ogden also noted the venue’s eight cameras.

“I appreciate knowing that so much safety’s going into this,” Gerson said.

Councilor Lisa Gourley explained her dissenting vote.

“I feel that there’s a big difference between sitting down with your family and having a little alcohol in a restaurant and an environment where the lights are off, a movie’s on and lots of children are there,” she said. “It’s the same reason we don’t let children into bars.

“I’m not in favor of doing this at this time,” she continued. “I know that that will not be popular. I know that there’s a lot of people who’d like to have a glass of wine. But the original request was for hard alcohol, and not a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. So I have concerns about that, [ones] I don’t feel have been addressed.”

Thomas Baham indicated to The New Era that the Rio would serve beer and wine in addition to hard alcohol.

Councilor Susan Coleman abstained from the vote because, as executive assistant to the CEO of BiblicalTraining.org, she had recently hired Erika Baham as the company’s bookkeeper.

Roadway Dedication

The council voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Kelcey Young to sign documents accepting the roadway dedication of Mountain Fir Street and Mountain Fir Court from Mosaic Development Services to the City of Sweet Home.

The decision came after the council made no motion to vote on the matter at its Sept. 27 meeting.

The authorization came with several conditions. Mosaic must retain a two-foot-wide strip along the south side of Mountain Fir and sign a development agreement to construct a sidewalk when future development occurs along that extended area of the street. In addition, the company must crack-seal and slurry-coat the roadway, as well as grant the city a 20-foot-wide easement for all water, wastewater, and stormwater lines not within the proposed right-of-way to be narrowed if required by the proximity of existing structures. It must also grant the city a two-foot-wide reserve strip at the end of Mountain Fir.

Gerson abstained from the vote after determining that any decision could potentially affect her home’s value.

Previously, Mountain Fir was a private road built to provide access to Wiley Creek Senior Living, an assisted living facility. Unlike many such arteries in town, Mountain Fir was constructed according to city specifications to become a dedicated right-of-way if the property owners so chose.

In 2021, Samaritan Health Care sold the Wiley Creek facility to Mosaic, as well as most of Mountain Fir’s undeveloped property. Samaritan retained adjacent property on the corner of 49th Avenue and Main Street for an urgent care center, which is now under construction. Mosaic is building a memory care center on its newly acquired property and looks to expand the existing assisted living facility. It’s also exploring plans for undeveloped property to the east.

Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen wrote in a request for council action that “the roadway is in overall good condition but shows the general wear that you would expect for its age.”

“We’ve taken a look at the condition of the road, and we’ve made some recommendations on what staff thinks needs to happen,” he said. “That would include crack-sealing it and a slurry coat before we take it on, but also, we would need to have all of the utility lines underneath the roadway dedicated to the city along with the roadway.”

He said some utility lines outside of the roadway would also need to be dedicated to the city.

“If you don’t, it would result in a situation where you would have a public line flowing into a private line, which then flows into a public line, and it’s not a great situation for maintenance,” he said.

Larsen added that Public Works has examined those lines and had no concerns about their condition.

Mosaic Director of Development Jeremy Schoenfelder said that Mosaic has 27 acres under contract to the east and wants to develop the land into a subdivision.

“We’re probably going to do some additional cottages, similar to what’s on the current site to the west, and then some other single-family stuff,” he explained. “But in order to do that, you have to have public access, and because that street is private, it precludes us from being able to subdivide into something we think we would want to develop.”

“My questions and concerns have been addressed with this,” Gourley said, telling reporters Schoenfelder that previously, “I couldn’t understand what the value to your entity was if we would take it on and the long-term effects of doing that.”

Schoenfelder emphasized that Mosaic’s subdivision plans are just beginning.

“We’re so early on at this point,” he said. “We haven’t even done enough of a density study about what can fit on there. We’re in the process of getting civil topographic maps and geological studies back to really know what is buildable. We have kind of an idea what we would do, but it would be single family stuff, probably similar to what you see with the townhome scenario on the east side of the current property, and then some more traditional single-family with larger lots.”

He estimated that Mosaic wouldn’t initiate any activity on the site for at least a year.

“We don’t know what this market is going to look like in the near future,” he said, “so we’ll be somewhat reactive to the market in that regard. But we’ll get moving relatively quickly after we close as far as getting the legal elements done for that piece, and then we’ll probably build it out somewhat slowly. But if there’s a demand for single-family homes and it continues like it was, we’ll probably move a lot faster.”

Mayor Greg Mahler asked for an assessment on road costs to the city.

“It’s hard to estimate what costs will go into the street in the future,” Larsen said. “We could be looking at $20,000 to do a full chip seal of that street in today’s dollars. But if it’s slurry-coated and crack-sealed now before the city takes it on, there’s quite a bit of life that we would have before it would get to that point.”

He added that any cost would be balanced by system development charges and the added value of property taxes that would be brought in with the land, especially if it’s developed.

“There’s 27 acres there, and even if only half of that is developable, that’s still quite a few units that can go in there, and a significant amount of system development charges for our transportation system that those units would also be paying – much higher than the expected costs over the next 20 years,” he said.

Following the council vote, Schoenfelder said, “We’re here and we’re doing well, and we like it, so we want to keep moving. We appreciate your time, and we like being a part of the community.”

Homeless Facility Update

Larsen gave an update on the Family Assistance and Resource Center’s Managed Outreach and Community Resource Facility, currently being prepped on an FAC-owned parcel of land east of Bi-Mart.

He said that fencing has been completed, except for one side along the easement where the annex building would need to pass through. The site is level and powered through an agreement between the city and Pacific Power.

He said that FAC was working with the high school on more Conestoga huts.

“In the next couple of days, they should have a couple of those huts on site, which is good to finally get some of those huts moved to the location,” Larsen said.

The annex building has internal bracing in place, allowing it to be moved.

“I believe today, FAC had a firm looking at it to see about moving it to the site,” Larsen said. “So we’re hoping that that will be successful, and they will be able to do that within the next week. The biggest delay for the whole project has been getting that annex building moved, because it is not a traditional manufactured building. It’s a modular building, so there’s no actual axles underneath it. It requires a specialized moving process.”

He added that draft rules are also in place.

“The city has basically fulfilled all that we have said we were going to do,” Larsen said. “We’re continuing to support FAC as they move through the process. Work still remains, obviously, but we’re getting there.”

In other action:

♦ Councilor Sanchez shared her discontent with speeding traffic.

“I was working last week in the city of Sweet Home on Highway 20, and I just want to state my concerns about the traffic speed,” she said. “It was very frightening for me to be inside of the work zone, watching the people on the ground be nervous. Sadly, I even saw commercial vehicles going faster than what they should have been. At one time during that week, I saw an officer parked by the Dollar Tree and the speed was greatly reduced.”

Ogden said he plans on addressing the concern in a meeting with his sergeants, adding that he wanted to “come up with some kind of a plan to deal with that, because I’ve noticed the same thing in those zones as well.”

♦ Public Works Director Greg Springman reported that the Mahler Water Reclamation Facility has been in compliance with Department of Environmental Quality standards, after the plant experienced unusually high flow levels followed by die-offs of biological life in its aeration basin on a pair of Tuesdays two weeks apart, Aug. 9 and 23. Test results conducted at the plant Wednesday, Aug. 17, indicated E. coli levels exceeding the permitted level of 406 MPN, or most probable number.

The following morning, the system was back within DEQ compliance. Then, a week later, test results again revealed high E. coli bacteria levels, but returned to an acceptable range.

Springman shared that the plant’s status is better than it was.

“It has gotten the bug life back to where we need to do adequate treatment,” he said.

“We’ve had a good month and I look forward to having more good months. We’re keeping DEQ informed of everything that’s going on. We implemented every recommendation that they gave us, because we like recommendations. So far, we’re doing okay. I know we have a lot of oversight with DEQ right now, and we’re hitting checkboxes.”

♦ City Manager Kelcey Young gushed over the Harvest Festival, held Oct. 1 at Sankey Park.

“I want to thank all of the staff, the volunteers and community members who made [it] such a success,” she said. “It was phenomenal. To see something of that caliber in a town of this size is truly exceptional and inspirational. The staff did an absolutely fantastic job, and it took a great deal of work to put this together. I had a fantastic time personally, and everybody that I spoke to also had a wonderful time.”

“These are the types of events that it’s really exciting to see Sweet Home doing, because it not only brings the community together, but it also showcases Sweet Home in a fantastic light,” she continued.

“And I think it can continue to bring additional visitors and community members here. Seeing an event like this from the outside, I know I would want to move here, so I am really happy that I already have, or at least am in the process of doing so.”

Young issued “challenge coins” to two city staff members in particular, Facilities and Park Crew Lead Sean Hegge and Associate Planner Angela Clegg.

“In the military, a challenge coin is provided for truly exceptional service,” Young said.

“Sean made sure that Sankey Park looked beautiful, and was well-maintained and in perfect order, as well as making sure that all of the improvements were in place.

“He had his team there to make sure everything kept looking beautiful and that everything was provided for.”

She added that “Angela coordinated and planned the entire event, including all of the signs, banners, vendor setup, and organizing the bands, and was truly the heart of the entire event.”

Young noted that the pair “literally had to live and breathe this event for months and months, besides also maintaining all of their regular duties.”

♦ The council unanimously approved a pass-through grant through the Oregon Department of Transportation not to exceed $97,000 for the Sweet Home Senior Center’s Dial-a-Bus program.

Young said the grant was from COVID-19 funds.

“I really like the opportunity that Dial-a-Bus provides to our community,” Councilor Coleman said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Councilor Gerson added, “and the fact that the budget has increased is a positive step for Sweet Home.”

♦ Coleman announced that a Community Meet and Greet with new leaders in town will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Jim Riggs Community Center, 878 18th Ave.

Young, Ogden, Sweet Home School District Superintendent Terry Martin, Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Fire Chief Nick Tyler, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lagea Mull, and Sweet Home Senior Center Director Dawn Mitchell have been invited to the event, which is hosted by the Sweet Home Community Foundation.

♦ Young said that council and city staff will be going over the city’s audit at the next council meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, at City Hall.