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Report: Slow walk growth talks until 2021

Of the Keizertimes

Keizer has limited options for growth and should wait until at least 2021 for a new population growth projections before making any major changes. That was the message from the final report on a cost of growth study at a Keizer City Council work session Monday, Oct. 22.

Glen Bolen, a senior planner with Otak – the consulting firm that conducted the study – led an audience through the findings of an analysis of what Keizer can expect to pay in terms of dollars and livability if it chooses to grow.

City officials and staff are wrestling with the challenges presented in a 2013 Housing Needs Analysis adopted by the city. That analysis concluded that Keizer would fall short of the land needed to accommodate expected growth for the next 20 years – to the tune of 1,674 residential units or 197 acres. Keizer could absorb some of the expected impact through zoning changes, but not all of it and what can’t be absorbed might come at a high cost for current residents.

The growth expectations might also change in three years. Currently, Portland State University issues a growth projection for the entire Salem-Keizer Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), but the university will look specifically at Keizer when the projections are revised in 2021.

“We verified that it’s really not feasible to expand while sharing with Salem. Salem has enough capacity to handle the regional capacity,” Bolen said.

Keizer shares its UGB with Salem that hems in urban sprawl. Divorcing the two cities will require an agreement between the affected local governments or legislative action.

When Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark asked whether the city could skip the agreement and appeal directly to the state Legislature, a regional representative of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) cautioned against it.

“We would  recommend to follow [agreement] process first, and the legislature will look for you to do that first,” said Angela Carnahan, of DLCD.

In the study, Keizer was compared to three other municipalities that attempted to expand their UGBs. Of the three, only one was successful. Clark asked whether there were any other examples of success. Bolen said Redmond was one city that had incorporated new lands while also revitalizing a downtown core. Carnahan added the City of Donald to the list.

“Donald expanded 80 acres last month and they worked together with all their partners,” Carnahan said. The partners mentioned were some of the same ones that opposed other attempts to expand UGBs.

If all those hurdles were cleared, Keizer would still need to decide whether expansion was worth the cost. Any new land would need to be hooked up to water, sewer and power grids and that would likely mean an increase to system development charges (SDCs), which would drive up to costs of any new homes and could scare away investment. Bolen noted that Keizer’s existing SDCS are already “surprisingly low.”

Bolen said there are two dominant schools of thought on growth. The first is that growth should pay for itself. The second is that investing in growth pays off over time in taxes on new and redeveloped property. However, with Keizer’s frozen property tax rate of a little more than $2 per $1,000 of assessed value, recouping costs would likely take years.

One of the few silver linings in Bolen’s report was that Keizer could absorb about half the expected housing need by simply upzoning multifamily properties near River Road to commercial mixed zones. While the city could change the zones with relative ease, attracting reinvestment might prove more difficult.

“That might require catalytic projects where the city puts some skin in the game – gets concessions from developers – and proves the market for other investment,” Bolen said. “Even though it wouldn’t change the city overnight it would change the city over time.”