A land addition – and annexation – at Keizer Rapids Park has created anxiety for some of its neighbors. (Submitted)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

City staff are seeking to defuse rumors of elaborate basketball facilities and other high-trafifc amenities coming with an annexation near Keizer Rapids Park.

A recommendation to annex some 37 acres of land to expand Keizer Rapids Park came down from the Planning Commission last week. It will go before the Keizer City Council for a public hearing and possible approval at a date yet to be set.

However, some neighbors of the park aren’t happy about the possibilities, voicing concerns from light and noise to pedestrian safety and littering. Community Development Director Nate Brown insisted in a post on the city’s website this week that a park addition won’t mean “a sports complex, tennis courts, competition facilities, etc.” due to the restrictive zoning placed on the to-be-acquired land.

First some background: The city has options to purchase some 27.41 acres of land owned by the Buchholz family and about 0.34 acres from the Buchanan family in order to expand Keizer Rapids Park.

City leaders have opted to make the purchase with urban renewal dollars. However, land must be in the city limits in order to use said funds, so the city is seeking to annex the two properties along with about 10 acres of Keizer Rapids Park.

The lands have been zoned under a new designation that is similar to the county’s Exclusive Farm Use zone. Senior Planner Sam Litke stated the annexation wouldn’t allow extension of urban services outside the urban growth boundary (UGB), and the city’s agreement with Marion County prohibits expanding sanitary sewer, and any development must be done “in a manner that would be consistent with park uses.”

In fact, Brown stated officials from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development are already saying the amenities spelled out in the existing Keizer Rapids Park master plan are “pushing the envelope” due to the park’s rural status.

“Rumors that ‘The Hoop’ is going to move onto the Buchholz property are untrue – even unhelpful,” Brown wrote. “After the annexation of the property we are still obligated to the very same land uses – minus the gravel mines – that existed before annexation.”

Water service can be expanded there – and plans are in place to do just that – but it cannot allow an increase in residential density.

“It is possible the park could be expanded under this designation,” Brown said. “But the kinds of uses allowed in that park is something the state is paying very close attention to.”

Brown said talk of a large sporting facility’s imminence is “simply untrue.”

So what could go there? Unorganized play fields was one example Brown said “I would feel comfortable in pursuing.”

Larry Monagon, who owns the olive orchard Victory Estates, said the dog park in particular attracted heavier foot and motor traffic, “blocking ingress and egress to our properties as well as other properties.”

He also questioned who would be responsible for policing his property – Marion County Sheriff’s deputies or Keizer Police.

When Monagon asked who would farm a filbert orchard remaining on the Buchholz property, city staff admitted they weren’t sure, saying it would be a decision made by either the city council or city manager.

Rhonda Rich, president of the West Keizer Neighborhood Association, said the annexation “shouldn’t be taken lightly” considering the city’s struggles with fully funding parks. She also said the city hadn’t adequately built a “good neighbor buffer” to shield the neighborhood from noise and light.

She also said she’d like to see whether city residents are willing to pay a parks fee or otherwise put more money into parks.

“I’m not anti-park,” Rich said. “I’m for the parks we have now.”

Councilor Richard Walsh testified residents should take the future into account when forming opinions about expanding the park. Walsh has been arguably the primary driver behind acquiring the land for, and then develop, Keizer Rapids Park.

He referenced Hyde Park in London, U.K. and Henry VIII’s moves to preserve it – albeit as the monarch’s own private hunting reserve – and how, centuries later, it is an essential part of the London experience.

“We have to think about this long-term,” Walsh said. “… Here we have riverfront acreage, Keizer Rapids Park is our only regional park. … Think about Europe. Think about the parks that were established that are there centuries later. … We have to think about the footprint we’re laying down for our children and our children’s children.”

Keeping it relatively undeveloped is fine if that’s what residents want, Walsh said, “but at least the options are there.”

Rick Hammerquist, who lives nearby, complained decisions were made without community input, and expressed concerns about possible fire dangers from a lack of fire hydrants in the area.