A plan to transform Keizer

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KEIZERTIMES/File photo

KEIZERTIMES/File photo

There was a public hearing at this week’s Keizer City Council meeting regarding revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The 90-plus page report from city staff is chock full of recommendations for the council to consider regarding managing expected growth over the next 20 years.

The revision comes as a result of the recently completed Economic Opportunities Analysis and Housing Needs Analysis mandated by the state. The analyses, completed by the city’s Community Development Department with the aid of a consulting firm, are meant to show how the city will meet, in part, the land needed for expected growth in both housing and commmercial.

The process has been long with a few hiccups along the way but the city staff has drafted a plan that addresses how Keizer can fit an additional 12,000 people by 2033. That includes a lot of infill developments.  Currently there are 122 buildable acres within the city’s borders; Keizer will need an additonal 384 acres to meet the expected need for housing, industry, business, parks and schools. Where that land comes from will be the great question the city will have to answer in the coming months.

Revising a comprehensive plan is a complicated project due to all the areas that must be addressed—land, employment, schools, transportation, housing, industry, business, parks, the list goes on and on. All these areas are addressed in the recommended revision. Once the revised plan is accepted and approved by the city council it will still be some time before today’s Keizerites see wholesale changes in their city. Incremental changes will come as the years go by, a zoning change here, a traffic revision there.

The city is not a developer, it can pass ordinances and resolutions to create business areas and subdivisons. It should create the atmosphere for private developers to meet the needs of the city as it continues to grow; it can also direct where growth occurs through zoning, especially when it comes to expanding the city’s borders.

The decision about an expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB)  is not Keizer’s alone. The city must work with other jurisdictions in the area: the city of Salem, Marion County, Polk County and others. As long as Keizer shares the UGB with Salem our destiny is not our own. State law says that each UGB must have a 20-year inventory of buildable land; Salem has it, Keizer does not.

It is not in the best interests of Salem to see the urban growth boundary expanded because that could lure businesses away from locating in Salem’s industrial areas, such as Mill Creek Industrial Park, to new industrial developments in an expanded UGB on the north side of Keizer. It is important for municipalities to maximize their tax base and no city wants to willingly give up the kind of money new developments bring.

To avoid protracted and prolonged debates with others Keizer should consider how to look at growth and the urban growth boundary in a different light. Since Salem currently has sufficient land inventory for both residential and commercial uses, Keizer leaders can devise a trade of buildable land: if Salem approves of  Keizer adding 200 acres to the ubran growth boundary for industrial-commercial purposes, they will promise not to add a certain number of acres zoned residential for a set number of years.

This is an issue where being creative and progressive would be a asset to Keizer.

The revised Comprehensive Plan is as ambitious as it can be. Until there is an agreement with others in the region Keizer will have to contend with growth within its own borders.

How Keizer grows will be in the hands of developers, those that come to the city with a plan to build a new commercial building or a new subdivision. They, and Keizer, are at the mercy of market conditions. A developer doesn’t build in Keizer just because the city wants development; it has to make financial sense. Will they be able to lease out commercial space? Will a family buy a new house that is built?

The Comprehensive Plan will come back before the city council for a final vote.  There will be no further public hearings; residents had their chance to address it at Monday’s council session. Nate Brown, Keizer’s community development director, his staff, the members of the Planning Commission and all the others who had a hand in writing the new plan have the best interests of the future of the city at heart—their handiwork is impressive.

Many items in the plan are just that: plans. It will be the city council that turns the plan into action over the next few decades.  How well they do that, how fast and how efficient will depend on the kinds of leaders Keizer voters send to the council. That’s where residents will do their heavy lifting—backing candidates who embrace the necessary elements and help form Keizer for its future needs.

—LAZ

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