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Big box battle may be on ballot

Opponents of a big-box store in Area C of Keizer Station may put the question to voters. (Photo Illustration by Andrew Jackson of the Keizertimes)

Of the Keizertimes

A Keizer neighborhood group is considering seeking a ballot measure to ban big-box stores in the city.

Kevin Hohnbaum, a co-founder of Keep Keizer Livable, said his group will meet next week to decide whether and how to go forward with the notion.

He mentioned it at a Keizer City Council meeting Monday, where councilors went forward with a procedural change some members said would make any retail cap allocation changes more transparent.

“I think there were some surprises,” Hohnbaum said. “… I’ve gotten a lot of favorable comments from people.”

What his group is considering is a ban on new big-box stores of more than 80,000 square feet in the city of Keizer. Target at Keizer Station, for example, stands at about 123,000 square feet.

At this point Hohnbaum considers 80,000 square feet to be “an acceptable compromise.”

He said the tactic is coming into play “because the city council continually doesn’t demonstrate that they hear what people are saying. We believe the people of Keizer don’t want another big-box store in Keizer.”

His group backed Marty Matiskainen’s unsuccessful election bid against Councilor Brandon Smith in 2008, and Hohnbaum didn’t rule out endorsing candidates this year as well.

“There would be the possibility of supporting some candidates who demonstrate that they are willing and able to make independent decisions and listen to what the community says, and communicate clearly,” he said.

The four areas of Keizer Station – A, B, C and D – have caps on how much retail square footage is allowed in each. A Council decision made in 2008 raised the maximum building size allowed in Area C from 10,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet, and neighbors feared what they considered the worst: A Walmart or similar large store on the edge of their residential neighborhood.

The most recent decision altered the process by which a developer would request further changes to the four caps, moving it from the text amendment process to a master plan process. Opponents of a big-box store in Area C – which is bordered by Lockhaven Drive to the north and Chemawa Road to the west – feared the move would accommodate an even larger store.

Developer Alan Roodhouse, who controls part of Area C, said the store he would be proposing would be about 116,000 square feet. He declined to name the tenant.

Hohnbaum testified at Monday’s meeting that the latest change, “although proper in the eyes of the law, is not the clear communication that the council promised the citizens of Keizer.”

His son, Andrew Mulholland, told councilors he doesn’t “entertain any illusions of stopping a big box store from destroying our city. … I am here to tell you that your actions taken on this issue will not be forgotten.”

Teresa Thompson questioned how building a large-format store in Area C would affect property values.
“I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘I want to build my house next to a big-box store because my property values will go up,” she said.

Trish Crenshaw testified in favor of a big box store, saying she chose to move back to her old neighborhood despite drastically increased traffic and more police calls to the nearby McNary High School campus.

“It would bring numerous jobs to the city of Keizer, and right now Keizer needs that,” she said.

Jeff Anderson said crime will inevitably rise in the area, and said Walmart employees are generally paid less than at unionized groceries. Anderson is secretary-treasurer of the local United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“McNary might … need a lot of police calls, but you build a Super Wal-Mart on this location you’ve going to have to literally think about a police substation out there because a lot of crime follows them,” he said.

Councilors Mark Caillier and Cathy Clark voted against the most recent process change.