Keizer couple fights battle for Chemawa Road

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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.”

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6 Responses for “Keizer couple fights battle for Chemawa Road”

  1. Keizer Voter says:

    I applaud and support Jane and Kevin for taking issue with our city dictatorship and giving the Keizer voters the right to decide this issue. Thank you for bring this issue to the voters.

    There is change in the air in Keizer city government. The city council controlled by our mayor will be held accountable for their actions!
    The voters of Keizer will have the final say on this issue and the cell tax.
    Take note madam mayor we will be heard!

  2. Bob Gallagher, Keizer says:

    I, along with the 30,000 other Keizer residents who did not sign the petition, will have a chance to vote. My vote will be against this anti-business, anti-free market, anti-”box store”, anti-America, anti-Keizer, pro-union nonsense.

  3. Steve says:

    I agree with you Bob. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. BRIO says:

    Being a free-market person, I am glad we will get to vote on this issue. I will be voting against the “Big Box” option for one reason. The lack of master planning on the issue. Keizer Station is not full. It has no entertainment and very few food choices. So the plan seems a hodge-podge of poorly thought out retail choices. I predict not a good representation of Keizer. Let’s face it, Keizer Station is NOT Bridgeport.Add a few years and a Walmart the property value for the folks living in the surrounding area does not shake out well. Actually what seems good for the now City will be a drag on it in the future.
    The Planners and City Council should go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole plan. Somehow I think they lack the vision to come up with anything exciting or novel. They couldn’t even think out of the(excuse the pun) box on the cell phone tax. So I do not think they have the imagination to create a complimentry addition to Keizer. Maybe when we get some new blood in government, this one has used up their political capital. They are broke and a big box isn’t going to fix it.

  5. Pat says:

    Hey Brio,
    Its not the government that builds the development, its private investors. Keizer Stattion is private land. Let the owners build on it for pete’s sake. You and everyone else who are unhappy with the development so far need to understand it is private property and that people have a RIGHT to build what they want as long as codes are complied with. What have you invested in Keizer lately? Funny, the people who do not own the land and have the great ideas are the same ones who do not have the money to invest!!

  6. Keizer Voter says:

    Note to Pat,

    Our city government changed the code after they approved a smaller build foot print in the original plan .Then they used a text amendment driven by the Chuck Sides supports, The Mayor and Five of her stoogies. They were wrong for changing the code to fit Sides requirements.

    I say the the voter pick what they want.
    If the voters want a bigger store so be it!

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