file photo illustration

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A petition to ban big box stores larger than 65,000 square feet in Keizer was filed this week with the Keizer city recorder’s office.

Only the currently-developed portion of Keizer Station – where Lowe’s, Target and the like are – would be exempt.

Now supporters must gather more than 2,800 signatures – 15 percent of the city’s registered voters – in no more than 90 days past filing for the initial petition, which would leave a deadline of on or about October 19. If it passes muster, the issue would be put to voters in March 2011 unless the city council opted to adopt the ordinance itself.

Keep Keizer Livable, the sponsoring organization behind the initiative, is pushing the ban subsequent to a battle before the Keizer City Council regarding a possible big-box store in Area C of Keizer Station.

Mayor Lore Christopher, when informed of the impending filing, initially signaled she wouldn’t support the ban.

The four areas of Keizer Station – A, B, C and D – have caps on how much retail square footage is allowed in each. A council decision made in 2008 raised the maximum building size allowed in Area C  – and mixed use zones throughout the city – from 10,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet, and neighbors feared what they considered the worst: A Walmart or similar large store on the edge of their residential neighborhood.

A 2010 decision altered the process by which a developer would request further changes to the four caps, moving it from the text amendment process to a master plan process. Opponents of a big-box store in Area C – which is bordered by Lockhaven Drive to the north and Chemawa Road to the west – feared the move would accommodate an even larger store.

Kevin Hohnbaum, a co-founder of Keep Keizer Livable, said the citywide big box ban idea came in part because the council’s decision applied to all mixed use zoning throughout the city.

“We could be doing redeveloping behind St. Edward’s (Catholic Church), anything that’s zoned mixed use can now have big box in it,” Hohnbaum said. “It’s not appropriate in Area C and it’s not appropriate on River Road, either.”

Keep Keizer Livable plans two workshops, one at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 25, at the Keizer Civic Center and another at 7 p.m. Monday at Countryside Christian Church, to train potential signature gatherers. Hohnbaum said the group doesn’t plan to hire a professional signature gathering firm, and there’s no other organizations backing the petition alongside them – at least not yet.

“1,000 Friends of Oregon has expressed interest, some labor unions have expressed interest, but right now it’s a purely local group,” Hohnbaum said.

Christopher said the concept of a big-box ban “makes me nervous.

“In the worst economy in 40 years, we’re going to narrow down the businesses we’ll accept in the community,” Christopher said. “We’re going to make it tougher for businesses to locate here and tougher for people to find jobs here. That’s what it sounds like to me.”

That said, if such a ban were to pass, “we’ll do the best we can at getting the businesses that will provide services people want and jobs for the people who live here.”