By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Council chambers weren’t quite as full the second time around, but it was close.
In June, a public hearing about a proposal to convert the “cow pasture” along Verda Lane between Chemawa Road and Dearborn Avenue at Keizer Civic Center resulted in the council chambers being filled with about 100 people.
Another hearing on the topic was held during Tuesday’s Keizer City Council meeting. There were a few scattered open seats this time, but still approximately 90 people showed up. All who spoke were against the proposal, which means most left the meeting happy when councilors unanimously rejected the proposal from developer Mark Grenz to move forward with plans for 120 apartments (see related story, front page).
Grenz was one of the few to leave the room unhappy, as he stormed out of the meeting after the vote.
“Good night,” Grenz said gruffly in response to a question from the Keizertimes, the lone media at the meeting.
Mayor Lore Christopher opened the public hearing shortly after 7 p.m. and laid down a few ground rules, such as expected behavior (which wasn’t always followed) and the criteria by which councilors would make their decision. The proposal sought a comprehensive plan change, a change in zoning for the Herber family property and a lot line adjustment. Each of those three things had certain criteria that had to be met for approval.
“We’ll stay here as long as you want us to stay here,” Christopher told audience members at the start. “We’re all neighbors living together in the same community.”
City Attorney Shannon Johnson read off the criteria that had to be met in the quasi-judiciary case, assisted by Nate Brown, the director of Community Development. Copies of the criteria were made, with police chief John Teague distributing those to audience members.
Brown noted Keizer Hearings Examiner Cynthia Domas recommended approval of the application.
“The history of the property is we all love the cows and enjoy the open space,” Brown said. “The property is already platted for 14 spots. No conditions were placed on that years ago.”
Brown pointed out the property was used as a farm for decades.
“The cows are there as a grandfathered use,” he said. “They wouldn’t be allowed under today’s standards. They are there by permission because they have been there forever.”
While noting staff supports the application, Brown said it is “understandable this causes anxiety” in the neighborhood.
“I want to stress that the property is going to change,” he said. “It is private property under private ownership. It will be developed and the cows will eventually go away.”
Shortly before letting Grenz give his presentation, Christopher emphasized emotion wouldn’t play a part.
“I know we all feel the same way about how pleasant the site has been with the cows,” she said. “But an emotional appeal is something we can’t make a decision on.”
Grenz, a 35-year Keizer resident, noted the Herber family came to his Multi-Tech Engineering company and asked what the best use of the property would be.
“A change from single family to multi-family was the way to go,” Grenz said. “That is the avenue we have proposed. The Hearings Officer considered what we submitted and in each case we met the criteria.”
Grenz noted the property is in close proximity to bus stops, schools, parks and shopping. Grenz said fears that apartments would have a negative impact on surrounding property values is a “myth,” which drew chuckles from audience members. He also said there isn’t the impact on schools, crime or traffic that people assume with apartments.
After Grenz concluded, 16 audience members spoke, all against the proposal.
“We already see 230 apartments within a mile,” Judith Odle said. “Now it would be 350 apartments. We bought a residence, now you’re saying it’s not going to devalue? It is going to devalue and you know it. And with three stories, I’m not going to be able to see nothing.”
As happened in June, many of the speakers on Tuesday acknowledged the Herber family owned the property and can thus do what they want with the land, but asked councilors to consider the impacts of the proposal.
Bob Thompson was among those mentioning traffic impacts.