By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Clint Holland thought convincing Richard Walsh of a site selection for The Big Toy at Keizer Rapids Park would be his toughest task.
Holland was wrong.
After several months, Holland eventually got his fellow Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member on board with putting the community build play structure in Area B at KRP.
With key people such as Holland, Walsh and project designer Jane Lewis Holman all in agreement, it seemed like the site selection issue before the Keizer City Council on Tuesday was almost a done deal.
The key word there: almost.
For the second time in a month, Keizer Mayor Lore Christopher poured ice on plans months in the work.
Last month, Christopher told members of the Parks Board to put plans for a possible parks ballot measure on hold.
During Tuesday’s council meeting – a day later than usual due to Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – Christopher once again dumped cold water on plans approved at the Parks Board level.
By the time the meeting was done, Christopher had steered conversation towards a new site, just off Chemawa Road as opposed to tucked well inside KRP.
Christopher noted a visual aid from Public Works Director Bill Lawyer depicting the three previously proposed sites helped her decide none of them are right.
“I wrestled with it over the weekend,” Christopher said. “The reason I got onto council in the first place is parks. I felt it was significant to community building. This one will be an epic build, which will put Keizer on the map.”
Christopher said going over the three proposed sites reminded her of the Salem-Keizer Transit Board asking the city to approve one of three sites for the new Keizer Transit Center several years ago.
“They had provided three locations and we didn’t give approval,” Christopher recalled. “They assumed it was tacit agreement. In reality, they weren’t acceptable locations. It was wrong to put the transit center on Chemawa Road and it was wrong to put it on River Road. They asked us where to put it. We said the best place is exactly where it is now. It took courage to say no, not there, don’t do it expediently. Not adding any congestion to Chemawa or River was exactly the right decision.”
The mayor then turned that into a discussion of the site selection for the play structure.
“I’m just one person, just one vote,” Christopher said. “I look at the three locations and I don’t like any of them. That got me questioning. We have nine months. We’re already in the process of getting an additional 28 acres (at KRP). That is the part being brought into the Urban Growth Boundary. How quickly could that part be brought into Keizer Rapids Park?
“That opens our horizons,” she added. “That says we don’t have to settle on one of the three locations. If you want to move forward with one of the three, I won’t stand in your way. But I don’t feel that is the best location.”
Christopher feels Keizer citizens deserve a choice and suggested the part of the park between the entrances along Chemawa Road, with a parking area directly off the road and the play structure behind it.
“We want to be able to stand in front of Keizer citizens and say we put it in best location we could,” she said. “I don’t think we’re doing that with these three locations. You won’t be able to see it from Chemawa. This will be a landmark for our town. I drove out there today on my lunch break. You cannot see it from the amphitheater if you put it in No. 1 (Area B).”
Christopher suggested having Nate Brown, director of Community Development, talk with neighboring jurisdictions such as the city of Salem and Marion County about the possibility of having the property in question – which is already currently in city limits – brought into the city’s UGB.
“If we can take a breath, I want to delay a decision for two weeks,” she said. “That gives time for Nate to put together a timeline about annexing in those 28 acres into the UGB. If Nate comes back and we can’t do it, we can’t do it. If we can, we can start to think about the possibilities. We can look at the entire park and say where should we put it. But if this (Area B) is the site you choose, I’ll shut up and go along with it. But let’s look to see if we can do better.”
Instead, it was councilors who went along with Christopher’s idea.
“I agree, mayor,” councilor Jim Taylor said. “I think we can do better. But I think it’s imperative we still do it in September. The community is expecting it. The Area B, the one a lot of people like, it’s not the worst place in the world. But I do agree there are places better in the Buchholz property. Nate, do you think we can make a decision in two weeks?”
Brown indicated he’d already had some preliminary discussions with Keizer’s partners.
“Yes, I do believe we can have the conversation with other staffs,” Brown said. “Within two weeks, we can come up with a reasonable estimate of the calendar it would take. I have already had some conversations with our partners. At this point, I am unaware of any major road blocks.”
Councilor Dennis Koho agreed with the mayor and Taylor.
“I’m bothered by the Area B,” Koho said. “I’d like something more visible, closer to the road. If that’s not possible, we should take our best pick.”
Without any dissent, it was agreed to push a decision back to the Feb. 3 council meeting.
“It’s not lost on me we have everyone working to a September date,” Christopher said. “But I want us to do the best we can do.”
Holland left the meeting shaking his head.
“You always have to make sure you really look at all the sites,” Holland said afterwards. “I feel the (Area B) site is the best presented so far. I came up with that site. The view of the toy at that site is incredible.”
Holland agreed it would be easier to see the play structure in the site Christopher mentioned, but suggested moving the project to the Keizer Station area if visibility is the key criteria.
“If exposure is that big, put it where the big oak trees used to be by Keizer Station,” he said. “But that area might get too much traffic.”
When asked if he’s concerned looking for a new site could push back the construction – currently scheduled for Sept. 17 to 21 – Holland expressed a related concern.
“It could be too late anyway,” he said. “We should be backing up the construction date anyway. We’ve been so dry for so long, Oregon weather tends to balance itself. We may have more rain in the fall. To me, there should be no construction after September 7. The weather changes too fast after that.”