Councilors again put off a decision Monday night that could soften retail building caps at Keizer Station.
The Keizer City Council did vote to strengthen review requirements throughout Keizer Station along with an amendment shifting a transit station requirement to Area B of Keizer Station.
But they put off the building caps issue, as residents in the Chemawa Road NE area – many still stinging from a 2008 decision that allows a big-box store of 135,000 square feet to locate at the southeast corner of Chemawa Road and Lockhaven Drive (Area C) – passionately lobbied councilors not to allow an even bigger store in the area. The matter could be back in front of councilors as early as May 3.
The issue at hand is a rather technical governmental process, but one neighbors fear could impact their neighborhoods.
Caps regulate how much retail square footage is allowed in the four areas of Keizer Station. Currently, in Area C the limit is 135,000 square feet, which can be contained in a single building. The Council’s 2008 decision raised the cap from 65,000 square feet in total, and 10,000 square feet per building.
The issue elicited at-times emotional testimony from neighbors, who founded the Keep Keizer Livable group. They backed former planning commissioner Martin Matiskainen’s ultimately-unsuccessful campaign against Councilor Brandon Smith in 2008.
The latest proposal was to move the process to change those caps from a text amendment process – considered a legislative change – to a master plan process, which is considered quasi-judicial under state land use laws.
It’s a two-sided coin: Some councilors contended the master plan process allows them to see concrete plans of what the developer has in mind, and under a legislative process, they said, there would be no such requirement.
But what had Keep Keizer Livable members and some other speakers at Monday’s meeting concerned, at least in part, was City Attorney Shannon Johnson’s assertion that “councilors must grant the reallocation request” if the applicant can show that such a change won’t cause a drastic traffic effect and won’t unduly burden any other Keizer Station business owners.
Councilors sought to give themselves more discretion, considering passages that would add criteria addressing “what’s best” for Keizer as a whole and the neighborhood specifically.
“I think everybody wants to be sure that you look not just at the property owners in Keizer Station, but also the impact to the adjacent neighborhoods and the citizens at large,” said City Attorney Shannon Johnson.
But Johnson also acknowledged inserting such subjective language into a quasi-judicial process could be “tricky.
“(The Land Use Board of Appeals) generally prefers the criteria to be clear and objective, but in certain circumstances you can’t have it clear and objective for every single criteria,” Johnson said.
Councilor David McKane in particular was concerned about the possibility that councilors would have little discretion.
“Under this proposal, if we go through the master plan process, can I vote no by saying, ‘I just don’t like the idea?’” added Councilor Jim Taylor. “… I still want that opportunity.”
Much of Monday night’s testimony centered around the big-box issue, with statements reminiscent of the debate from two years prior. Developers have publicly stated in the past that Wal-Mart would be the most likely tenant. A prevailing fear was that the 135,000 cap – which Keep Keizer Livable fought vigorously – could be raised even higher, although some city staffers say there’s simply not enough room on the property to go much larger.
Carol Meurer said her home would be “in the line of fire” should Wal-Mart locate there, and Les Faulds urged councilors not to allow what he called a “predatory retailer.”
“I have a hard time believing a large, single retailer like that is going to derive much benefit to the community around it,” Faulds said.
Frank Pauley said he walked the neighborhood polling residents last weekend.
“I talked to numerous people all day Saturday … and on Sunday, and I couldn’t find one single person who wanted a big-box store,” Pauley said.
He said that Wal-Mart has been stopped in other cities, and urged the council not to allow a location here. Councilors responded by saying they had no control over the brand or chain that may choose to locate within the city.
“I don’t mind people making money,” Pauley said. “Just think about Keizer and ruining more neighborhoods. I don’t want our neighborhood ruined.”
Community Development Director Nate Brown insisted the process was to give the public a better idea of what may be coming down the road, not to give a developer more leeway.
“This process is not intended to reallocate anything,” Brown said.