By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Conversations about a possible fueling center at Safeway on River Road will continue if the Keizer City Council accepts the recommendation of the Keizer Planning Commission.

However, the recommendation does not permit a convenience store associated with a fueling center.

At issue is a text amendment to the city’s development code. In the 1990s, the then-city council approved a special zone for an area around the intersection of Chemawa Road and River Road North. The zone currently prohibits the placement of gas stations in the area as well as several other types of development. Safeway – which did not send any representatives to the Wednesday, April 12, meeting – needs the code altered before discussions can continue. Even though the planning commission is recommending a narrower set of parameters on the development that Safeway requested, the council could still alter the final amendment.

Planning commissioners predominantly focused on two topics during the meeting: how to address impacts to the Keizer Fire District with increased traffic at the Safeway shopping center and whether to allow a convenience store in addition to the fueling center.

Commissioner Garry Whalen said that even if the recommendation moved forward, fire district concerns would still be aired and addressed during the permitting process.

Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan said he tried to line up a meeting between Safeway reps and the Keizer Fire Board, but the plans fell through.

“Once we open the door, it seems like Pandora’s box. We want to collaborate, but without the additional information, we can’t support it,” Cowan said.

Cowan took issue with the traffic study associated with Safeway’s proposal in particular.

“It’s silent to the fact that the fire district is across the street. It doesn’t address emergency response with regard to increased traffic and stacking at the entrance,” he said.

Commissioner Hersch Sangster said the planning commission’s role at that point was to move the recommendation forward or let it die.

“If it moves ahead, the city engineers will look at it and determine what will and won’t work,” Sangster said.

Commissioner Jerry Crane seemed to settle the issue by comparing the discussion to a dance.

“We are not the dancers, we are just allowing the dance to start. It would be in Safeway’s best interest to find a way to accommodate the fire district. We’re not making a decision on design or determining whether it will happen,” Crane said.

Conversations about the convenience store were settled more quickly.

Most of the commissioners sided with the city staff against allowing the convenience store even though Safeway reps said it was an integral piece of the plan at a meeting in March.

“(Associated) sales don’t do much for us overall, but if we don’t offer it, we lose the fuel sale,” said Chris Miles, a construction project manager for Albertsons, the company that acquired Safeway in 2014.

In the end, the recommendation was approved with a 4-2 vote. Commissioners Jim Jacks and Michael DeBlasi were the dissenters. Jacks would have preferred to continue the public hearing to allow the fire district to gather more information. DeBlasi was more concerned about what the change meant for the future development,

“I appreciate what staff has done trying to mitigate the effects, but good design doesn’t mitigate the problems. It’s like going into a gator pond, walking slowly or fast doesn’t make a difference,” DeBlasi said. “By allowing this use, we are locking it in for decades. It’s not like there are no gas stations in Keizer.”