City & Government, Creswell

Hats Off: Another Year Gone By

CRESWELL — A required skill of a city leader, Creswell mayor Dave Stram has spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on 2023’s impacts on the City, and now is ready to jump in feet first into the new year. 

Always a man who finds the silver lining — perhaps a tendency remnant of his former life as a pastor — Stram chooses to count Creswell’s blessings rather than dwell in the hardships thrust upon the small city this year.

Sure, hardships exist in Creswell, Stram acknowledges: the moratorium has put the west side of town in an economic development choke-hold for the next seven years; the unhoused issue — like most every other town in Oregon — is a complex and tense one among community and city council alike; and contention at city council meetings is all but impossible to avoid. 

But these are the challenges Stram has been voted in, time and time again since 2012, to lead Creswell through. He anticipates these challenges, welcomes healthy debates, and never fails to find the good in all of it along the way.

As such, in a recent interview with The Chronicle, Stram broke down 2023 in three categories — short-term good, near-future good, and long-term good. 

Short-term good

A space to sleep

“The last year was huge for Creswell and for every city and state to reexamine camping ordinances,” Stram said. In June, in a unique read-between-the-lines approach, council approved an ordinance that permitted unhoused camping, rather than prohibiting it. That ordinance didn’t explicitly designate a location for the unhoused to sleep, per se; rather it listed all the locations where they may not, leaving one location available: the “pocket park” across the street from City Hall. 

“The ordinance, according to the city attorney Ross Williamson, effectively brought the City into compliance with state law. It also satisfied that of a previously split council. 

“We had some very difficult meetings of the council trying to figure that one out, and when we did figure that one out, it was a unanimous vote of the council – so I was really pleased with how that worked itself out,” Stram said. “We now have a place for unhoused neighbors where they can go and sleep at night and hopefully be safe.”

Space to play

Creswell added two playgrounds this year: the 2nd Street Park — which the City is hoping the community will help coin a name for — and the Cobalt Activity Center Park, which includes a splash pad that will debut in summer 2024. 

“That’s an immediate benefit that a lot of families and children are going to enjoy,” Stram said.

Stram was also enthusiastic about the Frisbee golf course added to Garden Lake Park – but even more enthusiastic over the City cleaning all the trash around its nearby trail, which benefits all who enjoy walking and people who want to fish.

Near-future good

Airport improvements 

The Hobby Field Airport sits above the floodplain, so if there’s a major emergency in the area, the airport is the backup airport for the whole region, making it a valuable asset to the City and its surrounding communities, and a prime candidate for improvements.

In 2023, the runway underwent rehabilitation, an emergency operation center was created, and ground was broken for the airport’s first sewer system.

“We are working on installing a sewer system at the airport – and to tell you how long it’s been in process, when I was mayor back in 2014/2015, we were talking about this,” Stram said. 

Although the process to bring sewer amenities to Hobby Field Airport is a long, arduous process, Stram was excited that the City has broken ground.

Roadwork ahead

The Transportation Utility Fee (TUF), which was last reported by The Chronicle in April, began collecting revenue in July to gear up for the first TUF-funded street improvement: South 2nd Street. Although the timeline for this project is unknown, Stram said that “the TUF basically speeds up the timeline quite a bit so that we can repair roads faster and hopefully at a better price.”

Stram addressed people’s ideas to pass a tax or utilize a bond instead of moving forward with the TUF.

“The problem with passing a tax – like a gas tax – a fair amount of the money gets diverted into the state, who collects the tax and then gives the City some of the revenue for administrative purposes, or it’s a bond where you’re paying interest,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the TUF: 100% of what’s collected goes directly to the City. The City collects it; nobody else collects that.”

Clinching Bald Knob access  

Stram anticipates a soon-to-be industrial boom after securing the right-of-way to the City’s largest piece of industrial property — Mazama Industrial Park, historically known as the Bald Knob property. Located just off of I-5, the right-of-way extends approximately behind TJ’s Restaurant on East Oregon Avenue, through the old Bald Knob Mill property, all the way to Mill Street/HWY-99.

“It’s a diamond in the rough that we sit on I-5, on HWY-99, and we have a railroad right through town. That’s the industrial part, but how do you get access to it?” Stram questioned, alluding to the difficult intricacies that come with driving on Oregon Avenue and making a left turn on South Front Street/HWY-99. 

“That’s a terrible turn for an 18-wheeler to have to make, so the City bought right-of-way access from the freeway right back onto the Bald Knob property, which will pave the way for business growth,” Stram said. 

Long-term good

West side limbo

Addressing Creswell’s moratorium on development on the west side of town, Stram painted this turmoil-inducing predicament as a positive.

“This is short-term pain for long-term gain,” he said. “The short-term pain is that we have a moratorium for seven years. At the meeting (on Dec. 11), Cliff (Bellew, public works director) reported that we’re making good progress, and that we have another 15 new hookups that we can have – which is a little solace in the middle of the moratorium.”

While seven years sounds like a long time, “it’ll come, and it’ll go and we’ll have a whole new system and new pipes,” Stram said. “We have a lot of property on the west side, and people are wanting to develop it, so upgrading the whole sewer system is, in the long term, a really good thing to do.”

Butting heads

Stram knows all too well that reaching council consensus doesn’t always come easy. At a recent city council meeting, a citizen said to him, “Well, you’re going to have a contentious meeting tonight.” 

Later on, he reflected on that statement. 

“This last year, when we worked through the ordinance for the unhoused, that was contentious,” he recalls. “When we worked through the TUF, there were some contentious meetings; people were not happy about that. When we created our new remote work policy for some of our employees to work from home – especially after they had babies – that was contentious; the council wasn’t united on that … I can go back through Creswell over the nine years I’ve been mayor and point out all kinds of contentious things we’ve had to address, but that’s just the name of the job. If you’re going to be in public service, you better be ready for contention.”

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