By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
It’s been moved again, but there might finally be a set location for the Big Toy playground.
Nearly a year ago, a consultant recommended the community build play structure be built in the “Area B” section of Keizer Rapids Park, between the amphitheater and the boat ramp. In late January Mayor Lore Christopher opined there were better options.
That set off a search not only for a new Big Toy location, but it also led to a process of updating the master plan at KRP and incorporating 28 new acres of land as part of an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion.
Following months of meetings, Keizer City Councilors on Monday approved a recommendation from the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board regarding the master plan amendment. Councilors also approved Big Toy general coordinator Mark Caillier’s suggestion to move the play structure slightly east from what the Parks Board recommended.
A formal resolution and ordinance will be voted on during the Dec. 1 council meeting.
Caillier waited patiently for his turn to speak Monday and had a cardboard picture cutout of the Big Toy, which he placed on an enlarged KRP map to show councilors the different location.
The site chosen by the Parks Board would have involved the cutting down of trees in the orchard along Walsh’s Way. Caillier’s location, east of the planned restrooms, would not require trees being cut down.
“We’re ready to start work the day after you approve the site,” Caillier said. “We are ready to start doing things. I have attended all of the meetings. In many respects, everyone did a fantastic job. But as with all great plans, I ask that you consider what might be a slightly better idea.”
Caillier noted he talked with several people and had some phone calls about the location before coming up with his suggested location.
“This does a number of things,” he said while pointing to the map. “This puts it in the center, away from the road. It opens up 200 more parking spots we may or may not use. This puts it on an already cleared flat area, which doesn’t have to be torn up. We’re not taking trees off of the build site.”
Neither Christopher nor councilors had any objections to the move.
“It doesn’t look like a big deal,” the mayor said. “It’s just a little shift.”
Caillier noted the move also puts the Big Toy 300 feet closer to the adjoining neighborhood as well as water and electricity services.
“Mark, I think that’s a great idea,” councilor Jim Taylor said. “I can’t see a problem.”
Richard Walsh, a member of the Parks Board, noted his board’s recommendation was to put the Big Toy in a general vicinity, not an exact location.
“It makes more sense where Mark moved it,” Walsh said. “There are some advantages to moving it to firm ground.”
Brandon Walsh, the current chair of the Parks Board, agreed with Caillier’s location as well.
The master plan, as approved by councilors, adds most of the new amenities to the north end of KRP, with open field space, covered shelters and thinning of plants (to allow a better view of the Willamette River) on the south end of the park.
Amenities to be added in addition to the Big Toy are restrooms, multi-use sports fields, adult softball/baseball fields, approximately 250 paved parking spaces, an indoor sports facility, sand volleyball courts and a trail to go around the park.
Several park neighbors from the West Keizer Neighborhood Association (WKNA) spoke during Monday’s public hearing, expressing concerns about both the current and proposed buffer areas.
“The buffer zone is not planned to extend beyond the northern end of Tate Avenue,” said Rhonda Rich, president of WKNA. “The WKNA had requested that the buffer zone extend to Chemawa Road to set back park activities from neighboring property owners.”
Bob Warberg, a Tate Avenue resident, also had buffer questions.
“I need to know what constitutes a buffer zone and what will be there,” he said. “Open space won’t work. I’ll need a buffer zone for both sound and sight.”
Councilors voted on landscaping and trees, but there was some disagreement about the width of the buffer zone. The Parks Board recommendation called for a 75-foot buffer zone from the river to the top of Tate Avenue, not all the way to Chemawa Road as neighbors requested.
Councilors agreed to extend the buffer zone all the way to Chemawa, but took out a large chunk of the width. Cathy Clark wanted the buffer from the river to Tate to stay at 75 feet, with the buffer from Tate to Chemawa being 25 feet wide. However, that motion died due to the lack of a second. The approved buffer will be 25 feet from the river to Chemawa.
David Hilgemann read a statement from his wife Vicki, who was Parks Board chair when KRP was being formed.
“Keep the park in a native state,” Hilgemann read from the letter. “I never heard about sports facilities. I was told a sports complex was never in the initial consideration. The WKNA was assured the park was never for high-use sports. We have a jewel on the river, let’s keep it that way.”
Hilgemann added his own comments.
“We repeatedly heard rumors of a sports complex, but we were repeatedly assured that would never happen here,” he said. “We have eagles, beavers, osprey and deer. That will go away and change. You’ll never get it back. We need to preserve it. A brochure (from 2006) talked about leaving the park in a natural state, as opposed to what we are now considering.”
At the bare minimum, Hilgemann asked for light to not put in if softball fields are built.
“In the 20-year plan there could be lights,” Christopher responded. “New lights are all pointed down for that very reason. I think there is the potential in 20 years to put lights in. I don’t think the potential is there for next year.”
Though some WKNA members were against the idea of the indoor sports facility at KRP, no councilors had such reservations.
Councilors did have discussions about lighting in the park.
“To me it’s a safety issue,” Clark said. “When it’s dark, the dark is not conducive to the best of behaviors. Places like Oregon Garden use dark sky lighting. It is focused down. If we’re going to have more developed facilities, it needs to be included.”
Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said fields may need more.
“I’m no lighting expert, but I’m doubtful you can find dark sky lighting that is sufficient for lighting fields,” Lawyer said. “Dark sky lighting is more like directional street lighting.”
Councilor Marlene Quinn wondered if lights for night would be necessary.
“Our parks are dawn to dusk things,” Quinn said. “I think we need to keep that.”
Also added by councilors were a horseshoe pit, signage through the park and more parking around the amphitheater area.