City & Government, Cottage Grove

With 2023 in the rear-view mirror, mayors upbeat for year ahead

COTTAGE GROVE  — A native to the city she now leads, mayor Candace Solesbee speaks openly about the pride she has for her hometown — a feeling she hopes becomes contagious under her leadership.

There were some especially tough times in the Grove in 2023: investigation released in March found that “extremely unacceptable behavior” led to the resignations of its police chief and police captain five months earlier, persistent controversy erupted around the unhoused population and their shelters, and an eventually failed recall attempt was made for three city councilors, to name a few. 

But there were high points, too.

On the police front, Cory Chase was hired as the new police chief, and body cameras have since been implemented. Shop with a Cop, a program sponsored by Walmart, also returned to Cottage Grove this year, after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19. 

“Chase is bringing a lot of new training for police – even some new technology,” Solesbee said, alluding to software programs that will allow police to do their job more efficiently. “It’s pretty groundbreaking, and we’re going to be one of the first to have it.”

This technology will allow police to do a more efficient, industry-standard review of use-of-force incidents when they occur, for example, Chase said, by providing police with analytical data that may prompt policy changes. He said this technology would also be a way “to streamline … complaint intakes and the internal affairs process.” 

Chase said his priority is transparency, and that this new technology could “provide more accurate and real-time information to the leadership team in the police department to make sure that we’re managing everything appropriately.”

Chase’s background as assistant chief for the Port of Portland Police Department, where he updated the department’s use-of-force policy, played a significant role in his desire to obtain this technology for Cottage Grove, he said. 

Chase said the department is committed to obtaining this technology, but he is still in discussions with vendors. He hopes to launch and reveal it in full around February 2024.

Housing wins

This year had some wins inching closer  to housing equity in the City. The City newly adopted the Cottage Grove Urban Forest Management Program and also received a $60,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to perform an economic analysis and buildable land survey. 

The City also purchased a 61-acre property off of Cleveland Street, which will be used for industrial and housing development. 

“We’re hoping that that’ll bring a lot of new jobs to Cottage Grove,” she said. “Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can say about (the industrial development), but it’s a very unique, groundbreaking industry. The jobs they will be offering, if we can indeed make this happen, will be on a very high pay scale, which is great for the economy here. And, of course, we definitely need housing.”

The Pine Springs Development 725 Row River Road was also “long awaited in Cottage Grove,” and will supply both housing and commercial services.

According to the April 19 staff report, the proposed Pine Springs Development includes the development of 16 eight-unit, two-story apartment buildings with a park/campus-like feel, stormwater detention and treatment facilities, and a connected system of ADA-accessible pedestrian paths. 

Further, the City adopted an affordable housing implementation plan and  made changes to the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption to encourage more builders to come to Cottage Grove.

Solesbee also nodded to Eric Mongan, city planner,  successfully appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s proposed floodplain maps to more accurately represent Cottage Grove, saving a lot of citizens from having to pay for flood insurance. The floodplain was reassessed with revisions, and is estimated to be released in the spring. 

Other highlights of the year include: 

▯ The completion of a downtown retail market analysis, which led to insight on the types of businesses the City should recruit to stimulate economic development in the new year;

▯ Cottage Grove’s new 1.3-acre dog park on South River Road, which opened Oct. 28 and has been met with positive feedback;

▯ The bicycle and pedestrian master plan has already had two open houses;

▯ Cottage Grove has received approval for the City’s 30th Tree City USA award;

▯ The City hosted its eighth annual emergency preparedness fair, and it boasted about 2,000 attendees;

▯ For the third year in a row, Middlefield Golf Course had record use; and

▯ The Ad Hoc Street Improvement and Funding committee was appointed “to try and figure out different funding options to alleviate a lot of our problems with our roads within the city, to try to come up with some creative ways of seeing our roads improve.”

Progress equals happiness

Solesbee said her biggest challenge as mayor in 2023 was addressing the challenges of the unhoused population of Cottage Grove, a continuous topic in the City. She says that the City is planning a meeting in early March on the topic and is “looking forward to spending as many hours as we need to try and come up with creative solutions and hearing public input.” 

In the new year, Solesbee said she is excited for the planned revitalization of downtown and a project at Bohemia Park.

“We have 30% of our plans done from Branch Engineering for (revitalization), and we’re going to be sending it out to bid in 2024,” she said. Construction is aimed for summer, with a completion date of either late 2024 or early 2025. 

Branch Engineering has also completed 60% of the construction documents for the Bohemia Park entry plaza project. Construction is expected in the Spring of 2024, with a completion of Summer 2024.

“I think that is going to be something that’s going to be huge for our city to bring everyone’s spirits up a bit,” she said of the park project.

When mulling over the last 52 weeks, Solesbee said that the key to happiness in Cottage Grove boils down to one word: progress.

“We’ve had a lot on our plate this year, and I’m just hopeful moving into the new year that everything we went through as a City will bring us all closer together so that we can really get to work,” Solesbee said.



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