Of the Keizertimes

The Big Toy at Keizer Rapids Park project has a set date for construction – wherever it will go.

The timeline calls for community volunteers to help build the structure over a five day period, from Sept. 17 to 21.

For the second time in as many meetings, members of the Keizer City Council on Monday looked at the idea of choosing a different site on which to build the 10,000 square foot structure. Mayor Lore Christopher on Jan. 21 announced she wanted part of the 28-acre Buchholz property along Chemawa Road to be the site.

Previously, there had seemed to be agreement Site 1 between the amphitheater and the boat ramp would be the place.

There was not much objection raised in either of the last two meetings about whether the new site would be a good place for the play structure.

Instead, the debate centered on whether or not getting the Buchholz property within the Urban Grown Boundary (UGB) could be – or should be – done in time.

Nate Brown, the director of Community Development for Keizer who outlined some of the hurdles in last week’s Keizertimes, gave some more details Monday.

According to Brown, the property is zoned Special Agricultural, as it is an Exclusive Farm Use qualifying zone. The property would need to be brought within the UGB and the Keizer Parks Master Plan would have to be revised.

Brown gave a rough timeline on when various steps would have to be completed in order to make the timing work, starting with a notice of hearing submitted to the Department of Land Conservation and Development by Feb. 21.

“We would need to get working on this process immediately,” Brown said. “It’s a very tight timeline. There are a lot of complexities with moving a UGB line. There are four jurisdictions to coordinate with. This timeline finishes in August. It’s tight. This all presupposes that all goes well. This would be a significant effort, a very significant effort, on our part to get it done.”

Brown pointed out six other issues for councilors to consider, including taking out trees and roots if the new location is selected. More than 60 trees would have to be taken down for the site to be used.

City Manager Chris Eppley noted the conflict between a slow UGB process and the speed needed to get the project done on time.

“We knew this day would come,” Eppley said of the UGB issue. “Projects present themselves to us and we’re still trying to walk through the process. We need to make things happen quickly. This is not the ideal way to do it.

“Part of it is planning process,” he added later. “The other piece is this community build. Volunteer effort and energy has presented itself right now. Do we marry them together now, or say they have to wait?”

Christopher urged action to happen with the property in question.

“We need to move forward and unfreeze the 28 acres so councils now and in the future can decide what to do with it,” she said. “It will serve a lot of purposes. I would just say, councilors, these are big decisions. We have owned that Buchholz property for years. That is frozen land until we direct staff to move forward.”

Eppley boiled down the issue to a simple question.

“Do we move on the timeline for this property or do we say move forward and build where is?” he asked councilors.

Councilor Dennis Koho opined the city should move forward on the UGB issue, but have the current site ready if needed.

“I would like to see The Big Toy in a different location,” Koho said. “But I don’t want our choice here to cause a delay. If we can’t get the planning done but everything else with the project is ready, we need to be ready at the less desirable location.”

Christopher again emphasized she doesn’t feel the current site should be used.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s not a great location,” she said. “It’s deep in the park. There are a lot of problems with that site.”

Brown countered by pointing out the impact on staff to go forward with the UGB process.

“There would have to be other projects that would have to slide to make this happen,” said Brown, pointing to parking ordinances and infill standards as two examples. “There is important work this would affect. This is the most significant thing a city can do, moving the UGB.”

Councilor Marlene Quinn, chair of the Community Build Task Force, said site issues should not move the project back.

“The one thing that could push us back is funding,” Quinn said. “If we don’t have a matching fund when we apply for the big grant (in early April), we couldn’t get that. I don’t think we should postpone unless we don’t have the funding. We have promised a September community build. We have all agreed on a location, except at council.”

Councilor Jim Taylor sided with Quinn.

“We don’t want to push this back past September 17,” Taylor said. “We have to site this. If we push it back, we will lose valuable people including one of our leaders. As far as money, I am very concerned about grants. We have gone out to find how much money is available for this. We can’t wait any longer on that.”

Koho’s motion to have staff proceed with the UGB expansion was approved 5-1, with council president Joe Egli the lone no vote.

Later, Koho sought to clarify the build dates.

“I’m concerned there is some feeling in the community our decisions here could delay construction,” he said.

With that, Koho made a motion to build the play structure on Sept. 17-21. That motion was approved unanimously.