By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When Michael DeBlasi moved to Keizer from the Medford area six years ago, he didn’t waste any time before getting involved.
DeBlasi, a resource coordinator with the Department of State Lands, was appointed to Keizer’s Planning Commission in September 2013 and has maintained the role ever since. More recently, he joined the Keizer Traffic Safety, Bikeways and Pedestrian Committee and now he’s set his sights on replacing outgoing City Councilor Bruce Anderson in the November election. Anderson is stepping aside, but DeBlasi will face Dan Kohler in the election.
“I felt this would be the next logical step,” DeBlasi said. “At the time, I didn’t know that Bruce and Amy (Ryan) weren’t running, but I felt there were some differences in how they viewed growth and how I do.”
DeBlasi views the city as an ecosystem all its own, and that development should take place in such a way as to support other elements.
“I don’t want River Road to turn into a Lancaster or streets like that where people are whizzing by giant parking lots and big signs. I want to see development that is financially beneficial and improves the quality of life,” he said. “It’s not a traditional downtown street and any development should move in a direction away from [Lancaster’s design].”
In somewhat recent discussions about a Safeway fueling center at planning commission meetings, DeBlasi frequently voiced concerns over allowing it to go forward. Allowing the gas station near the center of the city would likely mean it would be a fueling center for the foreseeable future with little alternative other than someday tearing it down and replacing it.
“I’m very into form-based coding. I want to set out some regulations regarding what a building has to look like. If you want to paint it so that it fits your business or put a sign on it, that’s fine. But it has to fit in a way that, when you vacate that building, no one is thinking the bank looks like it’s in a Pizza Hut,” he said.
He said the city has become too focused on attracting big names and big structures rather than providing pathways for local businesses to grow.
“The new [River Road] Starbucks is a perfect example. The building that was there was nothing that was going to end up on a historic registry, but it was four storefronts. Now we have one Starbucks. I feel like we made it harder for smaller businesses to locate in Keizer,” he said.
Given that the city can’t raise property taxes and establishing new ones is almost always a non-starter, DeBlasi said maximizing tax returns on new and redevelopment, through careful planning, is one of the few tools the city has left in its arsenal.
“Walmart would never go to a vendor and say, ‘You sell your product to us and we’ll take the loss, but you keep making money.’ That’s not a sustainable way of development. If a business wants to come to Keizer, that’s great, but it’s going to have to pencil out for the city, too. We are dealing with 30 years of suburban-style development, but we can start turning that ship and looking to how development maximizes returns to the city,” he said.
While he applauds volunteerism, and is one himself, DeBlasi said it shouldn’t be something the city depends on, “it should be in addition to the basic services and staff.”
Even though the city has a volunteer council and several volunteer committees, he said all of them generally pull from small pool of rotating faces. His take on the current state of volunteering in Keizer is part of the fuel behind two of the major efforts where he would like to begin or rejuvenate conversations.
“We have a volunteer library, but I want to be part of the Chemeketa library service. Kids need it for the summertime and it’s a resource beyond just books,” he said. “I also want to break up the city into wards because most of the councilors are from one side of town and I think it should be more representative. It may mean I lose my place, but population statistics are easy enough to access and we can establish wards that are inclusive without being gerrymandered.”
He added that he would support the city adopting an inclusivity resolution as requested by a group of citizens last year.
“Someone who doesn’t look like me isn’t automatically suspect. If someone wanted to build a mosque in Keizer, there shouldn’t be any impediment to that. I think that it comes down to individuals getting to know someone from the groups that they are concerned about, but the city can present a face that is welcoming,” he said.