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Let us control our future

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A modern saying goes: if you’re not growing, you’re dying. It seems to be a guiding principal favored by business, developers and some municipalities. If you don’t have new sources of revenue or new housing tracts, then your organization is on a downward slide.

For a city some think that means it will no longer be a desirable address or that business will no longer come knocking. That could be true if a city did absolutely nothing to grow—no new permits, no new subdivisions, no devlopment. But that never happens.

Expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) has been a talking point for years in Keizer and Salem. The cities share one boundary which is key because the 1970s era law that oversees land use in Oregon states that each UGB needs to have a 20 year supply of land for residential and commerical uses.

By most measures Keizer has filled in its part of the shared UGB. Salem has plenty of land inventory in its southern and eastern areas. Unused land inventory in Salem is not the only impediment to expanding Keizer’s boundary—other municipalities are able to weigh in on any expansion discussions, namely Marion and Polk counties as well as the city of Salem.

A regional forecast prepared in 2012 by ECONorthwest concluded Keizer would need space for some 2,800 homes by 2030 to meet projected demand, including 1,710 single-family and 1,177 medium and medium-high density housing units.

That kind of expansion and development runs right up against one of the gems of our region—the rich soil that fuels Marion County’s agriculture. As one travels north of Keizer on either River or Wheatland roads they are met with acres of land that has been farmed for generations. Thousands of acres of Oregon agricultural land has been rezoned for residential or commercial uses of the past two decades. In our area, Willamette Valley’s farms are as productive as any in the world. The reality is that that land is less valuable for its agricultural uses than its developed uses.

How will the city broker any agreement between those who want to retain the area’s agricultural heritage and those who want to bring that land into Keizer and develop it? No major project is undertaken in Keizer without public hearings. Residents will get the opportunity to weigh in on any propsosed expansion and development of Keizer’s urban growth boundary.

The question that needs to be answered by residents and leaders is what kind of city does Keizer want to be. Should we do all we can to maintain the quaint small town feel many people think our city exudes and plan for our housing and commercial needs within our current border? Should we be a city that moves with the times, expands and develops into the land north of the city? Or, do we do nothing and let market forces determine what Keizer becomes?

It has long been our belief that those who plan for the future also control the future. City planners and leaders need to plan for the future at the same time as considering the concerns of current residents. Traffic in Keizer has been at the top of issues that perplex citizens.While we don’t have Seattle or Los Angeles traffic problems, in our neck of the woods traffic is an issue whether one is driving one mile or 20. That concern would surely grow with zig zaggy development.

We are smart enough to realize that more housing brings more people and more people brings more traffic. The city would be transformed for the better if new residents were able to work in Keizer. Working where one lives reduces the need to drive. Planning for future transportation systems will be critical to future development in Keizer. Thankfully Cathy Clark, Keizer’s mayor, is knowledgeable of and intimately involved with regional transportation issues—the city has a very big seat at the table.

All of Keizer’s municipal issues have been solved somewhere in the world—we need only look past our exceptionalism and accept that someone else may have solved a housing, workforce or transportation problem. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Maintaining Keizer’s special aura is important to those who call this city home.

Will Keizer die if it doesn’t grow?  Not immediately, but just like a plant, if it has stopped growing it will age, become brittle and eventually collapse and rot away.

It is the duty of leaders in both the public and private sectors to assure the viability of the city for current and future residents. That should include A.) expanding the Urban Growth Boundary in a swath 1000 feet wide along Interstate 5 between Keizer Station and Quinaby Road and zone it exclusively for light industrial and office—that will mean jobs for Keizerites;  B.) zone the River Road corridor for mixed used development—retail below, housing above; and, C.) promote improvement and use of public transportation.

It is always a heavy lift for a city to change development and zoning codes,but if Keizer is to control its own future, it must not be afraid to plan for tomorrow and 20 years from now.   —LAZ