Sweet Home to demolish historic railroad depot

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

The Sweet Home City Council tackled an action-packed agenda Tuesday, Sept. 27, one that saw a vote to topple an historic structure, the swearing-in of two top officials and the city’s refusal to take on a private road, among other items.

The council voted 6-1 to demolish an Oregon Electric Railroad depot at the north end of the Sweet Home Public Works Yard. Out of use since the mid-1970s, it occupies an area where an access road is planned for Linn County’s proposed RV fill/dump station and the Family Assistance and Resource Center’s homeless facility.

Originally located at the site of the current McDonald’s, in the 2000 block of Main Street, the depot was built in the early 1930s, when two spurs met there and ran southwest toward Holley.

Over the next decade, the main line spur came together with another just south, and ran south through Sweet Home, across the Huskies baseball complex, the Jim Riggs Community Center and Sankey Park, then west along the south edge of town along what is now the South Hills Trail toward Holley. Trains turned around using switches at the intersection.

When a McDonald’s was slated for that property in the late 1980s, civic leaders Ben Dahlenburg, Bob Waibel and John Slauson led an effort to move the depot north along an old railroad spur to make room for the new restaurant.

The depot then sat behind the McDonald’s on property owned by Lester Sales until Bi-Mart purchased it for a new store in the spring of 2013. Then-Public Works Maintenance Superintendent Pat Wood spearheaded a project to relocate the depot a second time.

Mike and Scott Melcher and Jim Cota of Timber Harvesting, Inc., in conjunction with the Sweet Home Public Works Department, developed and executed a plan to move the structure approximately four blocks to the Public Works Maintenance Yard off 24th Avenue, placing it on large timbers and pulling it. At that point, then-owners Dahlenburg and Waibel deeded it to Public Works on April 29, 2013.

Public Works Director Greg Springman wrote in his request for council action of an “immediate need” for staff to move the depot again, adding that relocation services would be a significant cost to the city. He noted that the building would need to be lifted and secured for the placement of new timber skids, then dragged out of the way.

On May 2, Public Works staff worked to pull the depot on its existing skids from the access easement but were unsuccessful. Due to severe rot in the timbers and the depot’s substructure, significant damage became a concern.

Attempts to solicit interested outside parties for the task came to naught.

“We did have some people kind of touch base on the depot itself,” Springman said, “but we really haven’t had any interest in taking on that building or moving it.”

“The most interest we’ve had was one gentleman who was interested in pieces of it, but nothing really more than just salvaging roofing, and that’s really it,” Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen added. “If you take a look at it, there’s some serious rot, and it dissuades people quite a bit.”

“It’s not worth saving,” Councilor Dave Trask said. “It would be too much money. I think this is the right decision to make.”

Angelita Sanchez, the only councilor who voted against its demolition, told The New Era, “I will never be in support of demolishing our history. I understand that things have not been well-managed in the past, but to me, that just means more effort should be taken to preserve what we have left.”

Kelcey Young was ushered in officially as the new city manager (Sept. 21 marked her first day). She replaces Ray Towry, who resigned in February. Christy Wurster served in the position on a pro-tem basis in the interim.

“I’m very, very grateful for how welcoming the mayor and all of the council, as well as staff, has been,” Young said. “I’m very excited to be here in the community.”

She graduated from California State University Humboldt in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities. In 2006, she earned a master’s degree in social science (environment and community) from Humboldt as well as an environmental planning certificate from Rutgers University.

She was a freelance photographer in the greater Seattle area from 2008 to 2013, then for Bellevue College in Washington, where she worked with parks and recreation, art and art walks before the college moved her to procurement.

“Unfortunately, that took me away from the art side, which I absolutely loved,” she said at an Aug. 10 city manager candidate forum at City Hall. “However, I found a new love for procurements and contracts and so forth.”

That passion sent her to San Antonio, Texas, where she became a contract administrator and contract manager for the city, which had both a $560 million and $850 million bond. Many projects commenced, including a new city hall, arena, stormwater, roads and other infrastructure.

“I was able to work with all of the bond programs,” she recalled.

Young then traveled to Dallas, Texas, to help with some of its compliance issues. She served there as the city’s assistant director of procurement operations. She noted that the city had a few grants it had to return, as well as a “huge billion-dollar bond project.”

Upon arriving, she developed a contracting program and compliance system and trained the staff to use it.

“I got to be involved in school districts, parks, nonprofits and lots of development projects, both in San Antonio and in Dallas,” she said.

Young would ultimately leave Texas, taking a job as finance director for the city of Clearlake, Calif. In addition to rolling out the budget and handling payroll, she worked on various development opportunities and business licenses, and oversaw emergency management. She worked for Clearlake for about a year before taking the Sweet Home job.

Using her previous experience as a finance director, Young has already started analyzing the city of Sweet Home’s spending.

“We have been taking a little bit of a bigger look at the budget,” she told the council. “We’ll be discussing that more as we move forward. But I’m very optimistic. We have a wonderful team here. We’ve got a wonderful council and mayor, and an amazing community. I want to thank you all for inviting me into the home of Sweet Home.”

Former Sweet Home Police Department Capt. Jason Ogden was sworn in as interim police chief after his predecessor, Jeff Lynn, accepted a role as a patrol deputy with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is a huge responsibility,” Young told Ogden, “and I just want to thank you from the city for being willing to take [it on].”

Ogden was born in Peoria, Ill., where he lived until he was five, when his family moved to Fortuna, Calif. He graduated from high school at Canyonville Bible Academy in Canyonville, a small town in Southern Oregon. Ogden then went on to George Fox University, earning a bachelor of science degree in business and economics with an emphasis in management.

He began with the department as an officer in 1997, leaving for 10 months five years into his tenure to work with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. After returning, he was promoted to sergeant in the Sweet Home department in 2013, then to its inaugural captain position in July 2021.

“There’s a reason I’ve stayed here for 25 years,” he said. “I absolutely love this community. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this community with the police department, and it is so surreal to be here tonight in the interim position. I’m super thankful to be working here, super thankful that you are entrusting me with this responsibility, and I will give it my best for you all.”

“It’s well-deserved,” Mayor Greg Mahler said. “Jeff [Lynn] had a lot of faith in you, and I understand why.”

As Lynn moves into his new role, Mahler said, “I wish [him] the best of luck in his ventures.”

“Even though I haven’t worked with [Lynn] for very long, he already has made a big impression, as he obviously has made with the entire community,” Young said.

The council made no motion to authorize Young to sign documents accepting a roadway dedication of Mountain Fir Street and Mountain Fir Court from Mosaic Development Services to the city, after the group proposed the dedication.

The Sweet Home Planning Commission reviewed the proposal at its Sept. 1 meeting and voted to recommend that the council accept it, with the condition that a sidewalk be constructed on the south side of Mountain Fir Street.

However, city staff considered that unnecessary due to the lack of development accessing that area. It instead recommended a development agreement with property owners to build a sidewalk should such development commence.

Staff also recommended that the property owners retain a two-foot-wide strip along the south side of the proposed right-of-way to keep sidewalk maintenance and landscaping responsibilities. Otherwise, the Spring Terrace Homeowners Association, the property owner to the south, would assume that responsibility. Both Mosaic and Samaritan Health Services agreed to those conditions.

The private Mountain Fir Street was built to provide access to Wiley Creek Senior Living. Larsen wrote in his request for council action that unlike many such roads in the city, it was built according to city specifications to become a dedicated right-of-way at the property owners’ discretion. He did call the proposal a “bit unusual” because road dedications are typically reviewed as part of the subdivision process.

“I don’t know about taking that over and taking the responsibility to take care of it,” Trask said.

“To me, it has always seemed like a private drive, more than a regular city street,” Mahler added.

In 2021, Samaritan sold the Wiley Creek Senior Living facility to Mosaic, as well as most of the undeveloped property along Mountain Fir Street. Samaritan retained adjacent property on the corner of 49th Avenue and Main Street for an urgent care center now under construction. Mosaic is building a memory care center on its newly acquired property and plans to expand the existing Wiley Creek center. Plans are also underway for undeveloped property to the east.

In other action:

♦ The council requested that a proposal for an Oregon Liquor Control Commission “Full On-Premises” liquor license for the Rio Theatre be re-proposed at the next council meeting, after the applicant, Rio co-owner Erika Baham, provides more information.

The Sweet Home Police Department’s investigation into the application revealed that the Rio has a concession sales area directly south of its main doors, and that alcohol would be stored and sold from behind that counter. Adult employees would possess OLCC server’s licenses.

The investigation further determined that the business 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. Wall devices would hold liquor bottles-upside down and allow the controlled transfer of alcohol to these machines.

The Rio plans to use clear cups with lids unlike the opaque cups used for sodas. Patrons would be required to keep drinks on the premises and could not order more than two shots of alcohol (for mixed drinks) per showing.

The theater is also considering installing a small beer-dispensing machine and something similar for wine, storing and serving them from behind the concession-area counter.

The OLCC had no concerns with the Rio’s license application, and Police Chief Ogden acknowledged in his report that he “found no reason to recommend denial.”

Still, Councilor Lisa Gourley noted, “When you consume [the alcohol], you’re going into a dark theater, and you’ve got children in there. I understand a lot of restaurants do this, and I really don’t have a problem with that, with their families and stuff. It’s just that it’s a dark theater, and we don’t allow children into bars for a reason. So I would just like a little bit more information on that and how they plan to manage that.”

Councilor Diane Gerson asked, “I notice where it says that patrons will not be allowed more than two shots. Is that going to be true with beer and wine?”

Trask vouched for Rio co-owner Tom Baham.

“He will make that as safe as he can possibly make it,” Trask said. “Somebody could goof that up, but I think he’ll keep control of it. He’s a pretty good guy. He wouldn’t do anything that was going to hurt kids or any of that stuff. I don’t believe that.”

“To me it just seems like a restaurant, where your family is going to enjoy a meal or watch a movie, and you’re going to consume an adult beverage with your children there and have a couple of hours to let it go away while you’re enjoying your show,” Sanchez said. “Anything that we can do to help small business in this community bring a little bit more revenue in should be our biggest concern. I understand that we’re also concerned about youth, but it sounds to me like they have a lot of safeguards put in place to make sure that it’s heavily monitored, and dispensed with the right amount of alcohol, because it’s automated. It seems like they went through great lengths to make sure that this was as safe as they could.”

♦ The council voted unanimously to enter into a new lease agreement for printer/copier use with Pacific Office Automation. The city previously completed a request for proposals to review service and cost for copier/printer leases for the city and received three quotes, the lowest being from Pacific Office Automation.

♦ Gourley announced that the Community Health Committee has decided to change its meeting date to the second Thursday of each month, at 5:30 p.m.

“We’ve done this because the Benton and Linn County Health Committee meets on the same night [as the Sweet Home Community Health Committee formerly met], and it inhibits people from attending both meetings,” she said.

♦ Young said the city had to postpone an audit presentation to the next council meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11.

♦ Sanchez spoke of the Sept. 21 ceremony at which ownership of the former Cascadia State Park was transferred to Linn County.

“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I’m really thankful for the county commissioners and the tribes, and all of the people in the parks department that made that possible.