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When there’s no money

Several years ago this space called for the Keizer City Council to consider what the city would lose if the Herber property (informally called ‘the cow pasture’) was rezoned and that acreage was lost to development. A 112-unit apartment complex is proposed for that property. We haven’t changed our minds, but reality has set in.

There is no public money available to purchase that land and add it to Claggett Creek Park which sits west of the bluff and the creek itself. There is no public money to maintain another sizable park—we can’t keep up with the 19 parks already in the system.

The city council voted at this week’s meeting to move ahead by directing city staff to write an ordinance  for rezoning of the property. That unanimous decision will not sit well with the opponents of the planned apartment development. Over 100 Keizerites testified at a public hearing in June 2014, most who spoke then were against the apartments and spoke passionately about the green space, the cows the property’s owners keep on the land and the two-story house that dates back to the 19th century.

The comments on the Keizertimes Facebook page about Monday’s vote were almost solidly against the council’s vote. There is no doubt the ‘cow pasture’ issue is the hot topic in town.

But the council’s action on Monday has a caveat: the developers must allow up to 18 months for a party to come forward and relocate the house. Any interested party has a six month time line to express interest and then another twelve months to complete  any move. Costs for such a move includes not only the expensive move but also a place to move it to.

To some the structure is just an old house that has seen better days; to others it is a part of Keizer’s early history.  But the house is the least of the arguments against any development there.  Most opposed cite increased traffic and impact on local schools. Experts have testified that the area streets (including the new roundabout at Chemawa Road and Verda Lane) can handle the increased traffic counts. Officials from the Salem-Keizer School District say the impact on the closest schools will be minimal.

Keizer’s Department of Community Development and the city council had no wiggle room on the issue—they all had to address the proposed zoning changes based on current codes and laws. Council Kim Freeman stated at Monday’s session, “I can’t find fault” with the proposal after thanking  the people who spoke about the issue over the past two years.

Some express the view that the council and city is driven by a desire for more tax revenue the development would produce. Some express views that the city is in the pockets of special moneyed interests. Those are views that are not borne out by the history of decisions the city and the council have made, though the sentiment is not hard to understand.

Keizer residents elect city councilors to do the public business of the people.  The many citizens who have served as a city councilor over the past 33 years have taken their duties seriously and rely on the city staff to present clear options on any topic that comes up.

This council is following the rules our society has agreed to live under. The seven people currently serving do not want to tread on the rights of private property owners to do with their land as they see fit. It is government staying off the back of its citizens.

There is no money to buy the land for a park. There is no money to add amenities or maintain a park that size.  The best option for those who don’t want an apartment complex on that property and keep a green space with cows is to buy it themselves. Unless proponents of a green space have a few spare million dollars to purchase the land, it will have to defer to its elected representatives.