Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Commishes want more on Safeway fuel proposal

Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer Planning Commission opted to continue a public hearing on a proposed Safeway fueling center on River Road North at its meeting Wednesday, March 15.

Representatives of Safeway requested a continuation of the process while they determined how to deal with a prohibition on sales of other merchandise in a proposed amendment to the city’s development code. But commissioners also wanted to hear more on other issues brought up during a public hearing. Concerns about traffic, especially in regard to the Keizer Fire District’s ingress and egress, were at the forefront for the commission (see sidebar below).

Continuing the public hearing delays the commissioners’ decision regarding whether the fueling center should be permitted. The Keizer City Council, however, will have the final say on the matter.

In most other areas along River Road, a gas station would be a permitted use. But, even before Keizer had a development code, the then-city councilors decided to put an “overlay” zone in the area between Claggett and James streets on River Road North and Elizabeth Street and Bailey Road on Chemawa Road. The overlay still prohibits several types of development (see sidebar, below) and one of them is a fuel station. Safeway needs the restriction to be modified for the fueling center to move forward. The fuel center would be placed on an undeveloped spot in the Safeway parking lot.

Commissioners were given four options for a decision: doing nothing and keeping the restrictions in place; eliminating the restrictions entirely; backing a text amendment proposed by Safeway that wouldn’t allow the city to place conditions on traffic mitigation and other issues; or allowing the fueling station as a conditional use so long as Safeway committed to other improvements and traffic mitigation efforts.

Seth King, a land use attorney, spoke on behalf of Safeway saying that the staff-proposed amendment to the zone was largely acceptable except for a prohibition on sales of other merchandise. If approved, fueling center plans call for a convenience stand where items like soda, coffee, cigarettes and other convenience fare would be sold.

“This is not a workable business model. It wouldn’t be a full-service convenience store, but some ancillary sales are expected and a necessary part of these fueling stations,” King said.

King said Safeway would either like to have the prohibition on such sales removed or have the hearing continued at a later date.

Safeway had looked into building a gas station on the site as early as 2013, but the plan never moved forward internally, said Chris Miles, a construction project manager for Albertsons, the company that acquired Safeway in 2014.

“This is something our customers have requested over and over. Our nearest fueling center is in Salem,” Miles said. “We’ll survive without a fueling center, but we will most likely do something with the property because it is a dirt lot and ugly right now.”

Miles said the additional merchandise sales were an essential part of the package.

“That sale doesn’t do much for us overall, but if we don’t offer it, we lose the fuel sale,” Miles said.

A main point of contention in the conceptual plans is an increase in traffic to the shopping center that would result from adding a gas station.

Keizer Fire District Chief Jeff Cowan said the district would not support a change to the overlay zone.

“Don’t change it. It’s there for a reason,” Cowan said. “We have to go into oncoming traffic to reach River Road or the other side of Chemawa every day,” Cowan said.

Miles walked commissioners through some of the changes Safeway is proposing to help alleviate clogs on Chemawa if a fuel center gains approval. The main entrance would be widened by 12 feet to allow for easier flow into the parking lot, especially for those turning left from westbound lanes. However, the draft plans also included a reworking of the parking lot near the main entrance. At least three of the parking spaces on both sides of the first aisle of parking spaces would be removed and some handicapped parking added to force customers further into the lot rather than allowing them to wait for the closest parking spaces to open up and creating congestion on Chemawa.

“I don’t think we addressed the fire district, but we addressed the flow,” Miles said.

Chris Brehmer, an engineer with Portland’s Kittleson & Associates, said additional mitigation might be possible with some linking of the signals on River Road North.

“The development will increase traffic and we are trying to understand what they will be, but this is a chance to improve the entrance issues,” Brehmer said.

Commissioners didn’t show much of their hand with their questions on the proposed changes, but said they wanted to get more input from the other entities that might be impacted like the Keizer Fire District and Salem-Keizer Transit District.

“This is a big investor in our community and I don’t want to slow them down, but if we are going to continue this, I want the other interested parties to be here,” said Commissioner Garry Whelan.

Other code limitations take fire during Safeway fuel hearing

Of the Keizertimes

If politics makes for strange bedfellows, the same might be said for business.

While the Keizer Planning Commission was taking testimony on a proposed fueling center at Safeway on River Road North, the proposed removal of an overlay zone drew support from a connected pair of individuals. They supported the Safeway proposal, but had other vested interests in having the overlay zone removed.

While Safeway wants a prohibition on gas stations in area between Claggett and James streets on River Road North and Elizabeth Street and Bailey Road on Chemawa Road lifted, the same part of the development code also prohibits auto dealers, auto rental and auto repair businesses, recreational vehicle parks, public utility structures and building and drive-thru windows associated with eating and drinking establishments.

That last provision is what brought out Adam Wittenberg and Coldwell Bank Commercial realtor Pam Rushing.

Wittenberg recently acquired the old Bank of the Cascades building at 5120 River Road N. and has had some interest from a restaurant looking to locate there. The drive-thru prohibition stands in the way.

Wittenberg did not say who was interested in the site, but said “great businesses like Burgerville, Chick-Fil-A and Del Taco” aren’t looking at Keizer, and implied that the drive-thru window prohibition is snarling the deal for a potential tenant at the Bank of the Cascades location.

“We’re excited about reinvesting in Keizer,” Wittenberg said. “When companies want to invest, we have to make sure we’re not prohibiting (it).”

He said he fields multiple offers each week to set up a marijuana dispensary, but it sits within 1,000 feet of McNary High School.

Rushing said that it is getting easier to attract businesses to River Road, but that prohibitions like the ones set forth in this specific section of the development code make it difficult.

“The Bank of Cascades has a drive-thru and we have a tenant that would like to make it a food drive-thru, but it can only been used for a bank,” Rushing said. “I’ve been fortunate to work a lot in Keizer and represent a lot of property owners and tenants. It’s been hard to attract national tenants to River Road and it hurt the (other) business owners on River Road, but the trend is starting to change now.”

While there is a prohibition on new food drive-thrus, old ones – like the ones at the old Roth’s location – are grandfathered in. Because those windows are now inactive, the property owner was able to shift them to the new building that will be home to The Human Bean, a coffee company. When Starbucks  reps selected its new site south of Chemawa Road, they chose the first property in the immediate vicinity not included in the drive-thru prohibition zone.