By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Keizer City Council meetings tend to draw rather small audiences.
Next week could be different.
The proposal to convert the “cow pasture” at Verda Lane into apartments will be discussed at another public hearing next week.
The hearing will take place during the Tuesday, Sept. 2 council meeting, held a day later than normal due to the Labor Day holiday.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Keizer Civic Center, 930 Chemawa Road N.
Back on June 12, Keizer Hearings Officer Cynthia Domas held a public hearing to solicit feedback on the plans. Approximately 100 people filled council chambers that evening, with most speakers clearly against developer Mark Grenz of Multi-Tech Engineering’s proposal of turning the pasture land by Claggett Creek Park into 120-plus multi-level apartments.
Herber Family LLC is attempting to change zoning from Single Family Residential to Medium Density Residential and to change the Lot Line Adjustment, consolidating the current 14 lots into one 7.5 acre parcel.
Domas submitted her report to city leaders in July.
“It is hereby found that the applicant has met the burden of proving the applicable standards and criteria for approval,” the recommendation reads in part. “It is recommended that the Comprehensive Plan map amendment, Zone Change and Lot Line adjustment be approved.”
Councilors will have final authority on the issue and the hearings officer report lists a series of suggested conditions.
The conditions include issuance of sewer permits, connecting to existing sewers, coming up with a master water system plan, abandonment of any existing wells, street improvements that will “provide an adequate transportation system” along Verda Lane, the development of an overall storm drainage plan and a vacation of the Philip Street right-of-way.
Nate Brown, director of Community Development for Keizer, said the hearing before councilors was delayed to accommodate the Herber family’s plans.
“The family has out of town commitments for the month of August,” Brown said. “We felt it was important for them to be able to offer testimony.”
During the June 12 hearing, Grenz noted the Herber family came to him and asked what the best use of the land was.
“We determined residential is not the best use of the land,” Grenz said at the time. “This land is ideally suited for high-density housing. It will probably be in the 120-plus (apartments) range, probably three stories.”
If plans move forward, the apartments would go from the upcoming roundabout at Verda and Chemawa Road, along Verda down to Dearborn Avenue. The dozen or more cows would have to be removed from the pasture, an idea that was met with stiff resistance at the June hearing.
Several people have since called for city leaders to look into purchasing the property and keeping it as park land, while several other people at the June hearing declared a decision to move forward had already been made.
Like many, David Bevens shared warm recollections of seeing the cows.
“For the people that own properties around, that’s their inheritance, too,” Bevens said. “It devalues their property. I believe it should be developed, but let’s be mindful. Make improvements to benefit everyone, not just the landowners.”
Another common theme was concern about growth.
“This is a small town with a small town feel,” Brandon Baldwin said. “That attracts people. I grew up seeing the cows and horses. Albeit this is a family’s property and it’s their decision, but I speak for many when I say I don’t want it to do anything but stay what it is. Having 300 more people with no connections to the community will do nothing for the small town feel.”
Following the June hearing, Grenz noted change was coming to the property, even if no apartments.
“It’s not unreasonable for people to be concerned or to express emotions,” Grenz said. “But clearly this property won’t remain a farm. When the Herbers started on the property, a lot of Keizer was covered with orchards and farmland. That has changed.”
Grenz also offered some rebuttals against comments made.
“There’s been assertions of an impact on property values,” he said. “There’s been no factual data provided, nor have we been able to find it. Some national studies show that with apartments created under today’s standards, the trend is for property values to increase.”