‘We’re in an Unprecedented Growth Period’: Development Boom Puts Strain on City Staff

The city of Canby is busy. It’s summertime, and that’s typically a very busy season for city staff anyway.

Parks and streets get used like never before, straining public works and maintenance crews. Most of the city’s biggest events are in the summer, which Canby economic development staff are largely responsible for, but which also commands a huge investment of time and resources by public works, police and other departments.

And of course, building booms when the days get warmer and longer, and whether it’s a 530,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility or a minor home addition, it all gets filtered through the city’s planning office in some form or fashion.

But, that expected strain has been compounded by a major spike in new development, brought on by a flourishing economy as well as a state law passed three years ago that allows developers to annex land into cities, without a vote of the people, as long as the proposal meets certain conditions.

It’s created a situation that City Administrator Rick Robinson calls a “free-for-all.”

Things came to a head this past week, as Robinson and Mayor Brian Hodson brought forth a request to shift some responsibilities of city staff to members of the City Council. Specifically, to take a more active role in assisting the boards and committees for which they serve as liaisons (find a list here), including helping draft agendas for their meetings.

Robinson said he would prefer staff focus their time and energy on their “primary responsibilities.”

He stressed that he does not see this as a temporary issue that could — or should — be corrected with hiring additional staff. The city is staffed appropriately based on its current budget, Robinson says, and to add employees now would mean dipping into contingencies and reserved funds that should be preserved for the future.

It is often heard, particularly from longtime residents, that development in the city is at an unprecedented level — even out of control — but these reports appear to no longer be merely anecdotal. Bryan Brown, the city’s planning director, has numbers to back up the idea that development in Canby is at an all-time high.

Construction for both single-family homes, as well as commercial, industrial and other development overseen by the city, were the highest last year that they had been in a decade, and both project to be higher still in 2019.

However, Brown says the real staff effort goes into other matters: land use review for new residential subdivisions, review and approval of civil construction plans, assisting in the legal platting necessary before home permits can be reviewed and approved. In the past three and a half years, the city has approved 14 residential subdivisions with a total of 529 lots.

Some of these are proposed to be platted and developed in Phases and each is at a different stage in the development process. Of the 14, six have filed plats, which means they ready to begin building homes or have already started. Five or 6 have plats pending for county approval, while two are still working toward construction plan approval and plat preparation.

Additionally, Brown says Dodd’s Subdivision, a new, 83-lot development on North Holly, is in the pre-application stage. He expects them to file for land use approval later this summer.

As if reviewing plans for hundreds of new homes weren’t enough, planning staff has also spent much of the past four years focused on new development in the Pioneer Industrial Park, with major projects that include Active Water Sports’ new showroom and Columbia Distributing’s new Portland metro area headquarters — both currently under construction.

“When the economy is humming, more individual families are flourishing as well, which increases the number of inquiries and counter visits we must perform to satisfactorily address questions our citizens have about building accessory structures, additions to their homes, erecting fences, retaining walls, swimming pools, tree planting or removal questions and responses to code enforcement reports,” Brown says. “We have not tried to capture and quantify the counter visits and phone calls we receive but they have increased as a result of ‘good times’ with residents spending more money on home improvements the last few years.”

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