January Newsletter – City of Wheeler; City Manager Wullschlager Leaving, Update on Botts Marsh Plans

By Geoff Wullschlager, City Manager, Wheeler
Happy Winter and greetings to you as we find ourselves in the afterglow of the holiday’s. This month’s newsletter is reflective of a different course of action as the City writes to you from the perspective of the City Manager. I am taking this opportunity to pen the newsletter for the period as I will be leaving Wheeler as a full-time employee starting on the 1sft of February. While this is goodbye in the professional sense, it is not goodbye all together as I have taken a new position in the area (Assistant City Manager in Garibaldi) and I will be consulting with the City as we search, tentatively hire, and welcome your next administrator. We have accomplished much together in my four years here, and it is extremely important to me that the work and successes that have been generated during my tenure continue under new executive leadership.

While it is bittersweet to be moving on to my next opportunity, I did want to update all of you as to one of the most important aspects that will remain unfinished as I take my leave. As Mayor Burden informed in the last newsletter, we are looking forward to the application from the landowners of Botts Marsh, as they begin to close in on their concept, and the process by which they must follow for development. One of the most important aspects of this is bringing the portion of upland (developable land) that is currently outside the City limits, into the City. For those who may be unfamiliar, this happens through the process of annexation.
Under normal circumstances, the process is quite simple and straightforward. The constituents of Wheeler, by majority, voted to place this decision in the hands of themselves over ten years ago through what is called “Voter Approved Annexation”. This was written into the Wheeler Charter and has been the rule that we have lived by since 2007. In the 2016 short session though, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1573, which was then signed into law by Governor Kate Brown. This law now requires the City to take any application for annexation for consideration before the City Council exclusively. The problem for Wheeler, and 30 other cities in Oregon is that we are now in conflict with what our constituents have asked for and what the state has told us we must do.
I would not want to leave my position without offering a solution to all of you though, and I feel we have come across a middle ground that can satisfy all interested parties. On the May ballot you will find what is called an advisory vote. This vote will not hold the force of law, but will give both you our citizenry, and us your appointed and elected officials an opportunity to poll what is desired by the majority of the City. Of course, you will need to know more about what you will be voting on, and as the property owners develop and submit their application information will be made available on the City website (currently the concept plan is posted — see PROPOSED WHEELER WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT).

Aerial of the Botts Marsh area showing the lowlands that has been purchased by the Lower Nehalem Community Trust to be preserved and protected as natural area.

What I can share with you right now is that the owners intend to do a multi-phase development that will contain the following:
1.) A buffer zone at the north end of the property that will be preserved as native species parkland
2.) A cottage cluster type housing development (32 units) with the aim of creating accessible housing in north Tillamook County
3.) A commercial area at the south end of the property. So far, the owners have spoken with community members who represent the local farm to table movement about their potential interest
All of this will be encapsulated by a natural area/exercise path that runs the perimeter of the property, with access to anyone. The owner is very interested in giving back to the community in the development process.
From the perspective of your chief administrator, I believe this project represents a best and highest use of the property for a number of reasons. First, this development represents a potential increase of around $76,900 in property taxes a year, of which an average of $12,000 would go directly to the Wheeler General Fund. This is based off properties assessed at a value ($167,000) in Wheeler which closest represent the intent of the developer with initial pricing; the offering of the new and expanded housing options are set to be priced between $170,000 to $190,000 per unit.
As Wheeler is in a rural area, first time home buyers can qualify for FHA loans through the United States Department of Agriculture, within which down payments can be as low as 3% to 5%. With a 3% down payment and a sale price of $190,000 Windermere Real Estates (Coastal Edition) Mortgage Calculator estimates a monthly payment on a 30-year fixed loan (4.5%) of $1,120.58, which is 39% more than the 2016 “Median Contract Rent” and 13.74% lower than the Median monthly housing costs for condos with a mortgage of $1275 in Tillamook County according to City-Data.com. Thus I feel the intent of these units is in line with expanding housing options to local citizens; particularly at the lower end of the purchase scale.
Second, the development of the proposed 32 new units would bring a massive influx into the Systems Development Charge line item in our budget, which is money that can be used to improve our water system. Right off the bat we can anticipate $96,000 to be generated from the housing alone which is a much-needed shot in the arm of our Water Funds.
Thirdly, this development will not be of a mixed-use nature; with commercial downstairs and residential upstairs. This is important, as these types of developments tend to drag commerce and business away from central village areas. Conversely, the cottage cluster format would bring 32 new individuals or families to town who represent potential shoppers and customers to Wheeler’s existing business community.
Lastly, this proposed development brings much needed housing not only to Wheeler, but Tillamook County which currently has a vacancy rate of less than 1% for rentals. One of the largest deterrents’ to continued economic development to our region is lack of available housing. This project in concept represents an opportunity to not only bring accessible housing to the area, but a funding mechanism for Wheeler’s continued success which is much needed. It does so at levels that are accessible to households of modest to moderate means, and is proposed to do so with taking the vision, and intent of Wheeler’s guiding principles and laws into account.
As I leave, I would like to leave all of you with this; an introduction to what I feel is going to be a project of utmost importance in Wheeler’s future. I have nothing but gratitude for each and everyone of you who have made my time here challenging, rewarding, and nothing short of amazing. It has been my sincere honor to serve you and you have left an indelible mark on my development as a public servant. I wish all of you the best, and ask that you never be afraid to come up and say hi as so many of you do.