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Day: June 23, 2014

Tow trucks to be in driveways?

KEIZERTIMES/File photo
KEIZERTIMES/File photo

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

By their nature, tow trucks tend to be big, slow and can take a while to turn around.

Sounds a lot like the current tow truck parking issue being debated by the Keizer City Council.

By a rare 4-3 vote, councilors on Monday voted to allow tow trucks under 19,500 in Gross Vehicle Weight to park in a driveway, assuming they fit in the driveway.

So after several months of debate, the issue is settled, right?

Not quite.

City Attorney Shannon Johnson said allowing such vehicles to park in driveways represents a change in the city’s land use rules, which would necessitate the issue be taken up by the Keizer Planning Commission, which in turn would make a recommendation and send it back to council.

Once the topic comes back to council, Monday’s tight vote could be different.

Meanwhile, the somewhat related topic of response time to an incident – currently 15 minutes in Keizer – will also return to the council at some point.

At the heart of the debate has been whether or not councilors should change an ordinance from 2005 restricting the size of vehicles that can park in neighborhoods. Current city ordinances don’t allow motor trucks over 10,000 GVW to park on public right of way on any public street.

During several meetings, neighbors on the cul-de-sac at Clearview Court have complained of damage and safety issues caused by a B.C. Towing rig being parked on the street.

Though no new public testimony was accepted Monday, councilors had an in-depth discussion. That included a compromise Wiltse Towing owner Liz Rumelhart had suggested recently of allowing tow trucks to park in driveways.

Councilor Cathy Clark sought to make sure the city wouldn’t be liable for damage with the change.

“If heavier vehicles park on a driveway and they damage the driveway, isn’t it up to (property owners) to fix the damage?” asked Clark, getting an affirmative response.

There were several questions about whether having a tow truck parked at a home would constitute a home occupation, which allows for heavier vehicles.

“In this instance, the issue is the 16,000 (GVW) would still be too low for a lot of these vehicles,” Johnson said.

Council president Joe Egli made a motion calling for city staff to come back with an ordinance allowing tow trucks to park under the home occupation rule, while also increasing the response time to up to 45 minutes.

“We felt 15 minutes was too restrictive,” mayor Lore Christopher said.

Johnson felt the issues needed to be separated.

“Response time is not before the council right now,” he said.

“But that is part of the discussion,” Christopher argued. “It impacts that.”

Jeff Kuhns, deputy police chief with the Keizer Police Department, said response time is indeed one of the issues that was brought up by towing companies.

“As a motorist, 45 minutes is too long,” Kuhns said. “It’s different if you’re impounding a car in a parking lot. Those are totally different things. If you have an accident that’s blocking a road, you need to expedite the removal of those vehicles.”

Ultimately councilors decided to hold off on the response time issue.

Councilor Jim Taylor, as he has in the past, disagreed with proposed changes.

“I still see this as a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Then the refrigeration guy will come and ask for a change. I see this as a favor to a tow truck, which is not an emergency vehicle. People I’ve talked to are against it.”

Clark, Christopher, Egli and Dennis Koho voted for the motion to allow tow trucks to park in driveways – assuming they fit – with Taylor, Kim Freeman and Marlene Quinn voting against.

Rumelhart was grateful afterwards about the use of driveways.

“That’s what I asked for,” she said. “I am pleased. I think it will all work out. I suggested that as a way of trying to make the citizens more comfortable.”

Rumelhart isn’t as sure about the odds of the response time being increased.

“I would love longer response time because it’s hard sometimes to get there in 15 minutes,” she said. “They tried to change that rule back in the 1980s but couldn’t get it done.”

B.C. Towing co-owner Jeff Asher doesn’t mind the short response time.

“Many years ago I got a call of a police officer upside down in his patrol car,” Asher said. “You do have life-and-death matters sometimes. The 15 minutes is not a problem.”

Like Rumelhart, Asher appreciates the use of driveways for tow trucks.

“Allowing the use of driveways is a great help,” he said.

B.C. Towing co-owner Ron Duncan had pictures showing issues such as mudholes and parked vehicles blocking visibility long preceded his employee living on Clearview.

“The one thing that’s frustrating is a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute being handled in front of the city council,” he said. “The city needs to have something for neighbors to solve their disputes.”

Plans call for 120+ apartments

Mark Grenz (left) and daughter Natalie (right).
Mark Grenz (left) and daughter Natalie (right).

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Mark Grenz wasn’t surprised by the opposition on June 12.

Grenz, owner of Multi-Tech Engineering, has proposed putting up approximately 120 apartments on the 7.5 acres along Verda Lane at Chemawa Road, the area currently known around Keizer as the “cow park.” The cows would no longer be at the property and work – including a new road and other minor infrastructure additions – would be done to make the property ready for buildings.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years in the Salem area,” said Grenz, a Keizer resident, following the public hearing for his proposal at Keizer Civic Center. The meeting attracted a standing room-only crowd in the council chambers. “People want things to stay as they are. This is what we face everywhere we go.”

Grenz said his proposal got started with a request from the Herber family, the current property owners.

“The family came to me and asked what is the best use for the land,” Grenz said. “There’s a small home and a farm house there now. We determined residential is not the best use of the land. This land is ideally suited for high-density housing.”

Sam Litke, senior planner for Keizer, noted during the start of the hearing June 12 Hearings Officer Cynthia Domas will be considering a comprehensive plan map change, a zone map change and a lot line adjustment. The proposal for apartments, however, is what drew the crowd of approximately 100 people.

“It’s a piece of property with 14 lots, a plan created in the 1950s,” Litke said. “At the time a subdivision was platted but never developed. This seeks to consolidate it into one large property, then change the zoning. The site plan, to develop with 120 units, is consistent with the (Medium Duty Residential) zoning.”

Grenz said numbers and configurations aren’t final yet.

“It will probably be in the 120+ range, probably three stories,” he said. “We’ve been working with staff for more than a year. We wanted the city to get its Housing Needs Analysis done.”

After hearing most speakers at the hearing against his plans, Grenz offered some rebuttals.

“There’s been assertions of an impact on property values,” he said. “There’s been no factual data provided, nor have we been able to find it. Some national studies show that with apartments created under today’s standards, the trend is for property values to increase.

“It’s the same thing with crime,” Grenz added. “There was a lot of assertion this type of housing brings more crime, but there are no facts to support that. The criminal element occurs in all places. We are required to provide retention for the water. Runoff from the property to Claggett Creek will be dealt with in the design process.”

Grenz noted he understands the emotions involved.

“It’s not unreasonable for people to be concerned or to express emotions,” he said. “But clearly this property won’t remain a farm. When the Herbers started on the property, a lot of Keizer was covered with orchards and farmland. That has changed.”