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Growing pains in commission’s spotlight

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Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer Planning Commission weighed in on the future of city growth at its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Members of the commission met early this month to take part in a new study weighing the options for expanding Keizer’s city limits against the possible impacts on everything from livability to infrastructure. Glen Bolen and Kate Rogers, planners with Otak, Inc., met with commissioners and several other groups throughout the day, but the planning commission was the only one open to the public. Bolen said Otak will schedule two open-session meetings for members of the public to attend in early 2018.

“The most common themes we’ve heard so far are concerns about traffic and the ability to create more jobs in town,” Bolen said.

Commissioners commented on both topics during the course of the meeting, but the conversation was wide-ranging.

Commissioner Mike DeBlasi said he wanted the city to take issues like traffic and parking into consideration, but look at the larger development picture.

“Do we want development that encourages cars and parking or do we want development that encourages people to get out of their car? Do we want compact urban development? I think people have the myopic view that any development will lead to more traffic. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it depends on how you set it up to grow,” DeBlasi said.

To expand the city limits, Keizer would have to get approval from state authorities to realign the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). The UGB limits the amount of sprawl a city can have. Keizer’s shares its UGB with Salem and it is the heart of any expansion talk.

“As far as the UGB, Keizer can only go north and there’s a lot of arguments that could be made because it’s agricultural. The area I think would be most ripe is the Perkins Road area and it’s in another school district,” said Commissioner Hersch Sangster.

Aside from the school district issues, moving forward on the issue would either mean coming to an agreement with Salem – which hasn’t been forthcoming on the issue –  and then approaching state authorities with an ask, or finding a way to separate the two municipalities. Regardless, expansion in either instance would mean redeveloping prime agricultural land and that might mean a long, uphill battle.

“When cities try bringing in farmland can take 10 years. The Legislature makes it difficult to bring in farm-zoned land and we will document what that takes as part of our report,” Bolen said

Several commissioners also touched on the issue of affordability. Crystal Wilson, one on the newest commissioners, said she and her family tried for a year to move into an apartment in Keizer before saving up to purchase a home.

“We pursued a rental twice and it didn’t happen,” Wilson said. “I do love Keizer, but it is hard to get here. If you are looking to expand it would be reasonable to look at more affordable housing.”

Bolen said Keizer is out-of-sync with cites of similar size. Only about 30 percent of the housing options are multifamily units. Many urban areas of the state are closer to 50 percent multifamily.

Wilson also lamented the lack of entertainment options and the ease of accessing different parts of the city.

“When you want to bring newer younger families in there has to be entertainment other than shopping or food,” she said. “ I have heard and feel that there isn’t a lot to do here. We bought a gym membership for my stepson, but we don’t feel comfortable with him walking or riding his bike along River Road.”

Commissioner Matt Lawyer added that he would be priced out of his own neighborhood today and he only bought his home three years ago.

Part of the reason for the steep increase in housing prices in Keizer is that refugees from the Portland housing market are moving further and further away and then commuting to jobs in the metro area. City Councilor Marlene Parsons, the council liaison to the committee, said she and her husband are the only ones on her street that work locally.

“If we encourage industry or commercial development with family-wage, high-skilled jobs it will encourage people to work closer to home,” Parsons said. “(Keizer) is a great place to live, but a hard place to work.”

Commissioner Garry Whalen said that before the UGB is expanded the city needs to take a long, hard look at how the current space is being used.

“We need to make a conscientious effort to redevelop areas of the city where the housing stock is significantly older and where a lot of improvements to the streets – sidewalks, curbs, drainage – have not happened yet,” Whalen said.