Jane Mulholland and Kevin Hohnbaum view the fight against a big box store in Keizer Station’s Area C as taking a stand for their neighborhood. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Kevin Hohnbaum and Jane Mulholland have been told repeatedly that no one has ever seen as much response to a local issue as the outpouring that occurred as the result of the Keizer City Council’s decision to alter the type of building that will be allowed in Area C of Keizer Station.

It remains something of a cold comfort.

“If the biggest response ever is not making a difference, how much does it take?” Mulholland said.

Mulholland and Hohnbaum are the originators of a petition that will place the issue of retail buildings in Keizer at the feet of the voters who will have to decide on March 8 whether the city will limit buildings to less than 65,000 square feet outside of Keizer Station’s Area A. This is the first article in a series exploring the process, people and outcomes involved in the hotly-contested issue.

Mulholland purchased the Chemawa Road house she and Hohnbaum call a home in 1992. He moved to Keizer after the couple met in 1998. They’ve raised children within its 110-year-old walls and their connection with the house and their neighbors is what fuels their stance against the proposed changes to the original Keizer Station plans.

Originally zoned as mixed use, Mulholland and Hohnbaum came to accept that something with a retail capacity would likely be built in Keizer Station Area C, but they grew more attentive to the process three years ago when the city council put forth a text amendment that would allow stores larger than what are typically allowed in mixed use zones.

“At first, they were just going to change the limit of one store from 10,000 to 65,000 square feet and then the whole thing became 116,000 square feet or more,” Mulholland said.

To make such a change, the council should have followed the proper procedures, Hohnbaum said.

“If that’s what they wanted to do, they should have gone to the Land Conservation and Development Commission and requested a zoning change,” he said. “Instead, they chose the text amendment. It was a shortcut that offered the path of least resistance.”

In response, the couple founded Keep Keizer Livable, the organization that collected signatures to put the big box limitations on the ballot.

Mulholland watched traffic patterns and general congestion increase during her nearly two decades in the home, but there’s not one specific aspect of the potential development that troubles her most.

“It’s everything, it’s the increase in traffic, the potential for increased crime, it’s how long it’s going to be under construction and the disruption to the neighborhood while it’s happening. It’s the combination of negative impacts,” she said.

After the initial planning commission meeting where they were granted a reprieve in the commission’s decision to extend the public hearing, Hohnbaum and Mulholland took the extra time to begin organizing their neighbors. It was that action that later led to a petition drive and the placement of the big box restriction on a special ballot.

Along the way, they’ve come to realize that supporters and detractors are often using the same arguments in different ways.

“One of the reasons we don’t want to see this go through is to protect River Road businesses who have supported our schools and our kids the entire time we’ve lived here, but now we’re starting to hear the same thing from the other side,” Mulholland said.

Hohnbaum himself was recently on other side of the fence. When residents of Beaverton were fighting the approval of a Walmart, Hohnbaum spoke in favor of the approval as a representative of the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce. He is circulation director and associate publisher for Community Newspapers and Portland Tribune.

“The small businesses in the area can, if they choose, benefit from additional traffic and shoppers that may not otherwise shop in Beaverton … We do appreciate the concern of residents in the area in terms of additional traffic and congestion on the roads. However this land parcel has apparently been designated as large-transit-oriented retail commercial site by county and local jurisdictions,” he told the Beaverton City Council.

Hohnbaum said support of the matter in Beaverton differs in both substance in and representation from the issue in Keizer.

“There are businesses located around [the Beaverton site] that would benefit from the increased traffic. The Keizer Station developer commented that most of the business will come in off the freeway and leave there, it won’t be drawing additional traffic to places like River Road,” he said. “That site was also zoned for large box stores and [the Keizer site] was always zoned for mixed use and that is not designed for a large format retailer.”

There is also a difference between what he said in his role as a chamber representative and his personal beliefs and actions as a private citizen, he added.

“As part of the chamber, some of the decisions weren’t always in the best interest of my role as publisher of the Beaverton paper, but it was a different organization,” he said.

The pair are somewhat heartened by recent movements toward a more open dialogue between the city and residents.

“We’re starting to see a bit of a change, or at least lip service paid to it, but we don’t know if it is going to make any difference. We’re seeing the words now and that was missing before,” Mulholland said.

While both are disappointed with the ways in which Keizer Station has deviated from it’s original plans, they are adamant in their assertion they are not anti-business.

“It’s not the direction the community envisioned,” Hohnbaum said. “We would not be opposed to retail business going into Area C, but it’s zoned as mixed use. Anything that goes there is supposed to fit in with the neighborhood.”

If they were prone to giving in without a fight, they wouldn’t have fought the decision for as long or as hard as they have, Mulholland said.

“We’ve made the decision three different times to commit to the neighborhood and the community,” she said. “We made a conscious choice to stay here.”