By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Tuesday’s monthly Community Build Task Force meeting included proponents for the original site of The Big Toy at Keizer Rapids Park – and a further explanation of why the site along Chemawa Road should be considered.
Rhonda Rich, president of the West Keizer Neighborhood Association (WKNA) explained her group unanimously supported siting the play structure at Site 1, also referred to as Area B. Will Stitt, the former CBTF member who originally brought up the idea for the structure in late 2012, also spoke in favor of that site.
“We had previously approved Area B,” Rich said. “We looked at it again on March 6 at our board meeting. The vote was still unanimous; we want to see it at Area B. That was still the decision at the March 13 general meeting.”
Rich said WKNA members came up with eight advantages for Site 1, including being near the amphitheater and future education center, being in the heart of KRP and visibility to those on paths and at the boat ramp. In contrast, seven disadvantages were listed for the site in the current orchards at the front of the park, an area that would have to be incorporated into the city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) in order to be used. That process is currently underway via Nate Brown, Keizer’s director of Community Development.
“I know there’s a lot of stress right now about where it will be sited,” Rich said. “If you do need a large area and Area B won’t suffice, I’d ask you to look at the area in front of the caretaker’s house.”
Rich recalled Mayor Lore Christopher during a past Parks Board tour referring to Area B as a midway.
“That’s where all the activities are,” Rich said. “I hope that’s where they stay focused.”
Keizer City Councilor Jim Taylor emphasized Area B is the current site.
“As of right now, it’s in Area B unless something else comes up,” Taylor said. “If there’s a chance to move, there will be community involvement with that. Right now it’s a non-issue.”
Stitt, who is no longer on the task force due to family commitments, listed several advantages to the current site.
“Stick with Area B as much as possible,” he said. “You’re running the risk of delaying the project if you’re waiting to incorporate the orchard into the UGB. It’s too much to involve all (of the jurisdictions). One advantage in Area B is it will draw people into the park. They’ll see more of the park like the amphitheater and will come back for more things. If the structure is just on the street, people won’t be coming into the park.”
Stitt also noted play structure designer Jane Lewis Holman from contractor Leathers and Associates fell in love with Area B when she visited in November.
“Jane from Leathers saw it and said it was the perfect site,” Stitt said. “I think we need to heed that advice and listen to someone with a lot of experience in this area, rather than just finding another spot just because we can…If it’s by the street, it’s easier for someone to drive away with your kid. Don’t go looking for other sites. You have a good site where it is.”
Christopher, who first brought up the idea of the site in the orchards in January, was watching the meeting and decided to speak.
“I’m probably part of the problem,” she said. “I mentioned one location. The reason I did that is for five to seven years we’ve heard dog park people complain there is not enough parking. We’re investing a lot of community labor and taxpayer money in this. We want the absolute best bang for the buck. This is a legacy project. This is for our kids and their kids.”
Christopher said her concerns about Area B arose when she saw a map showing how the play structure would fit in.
“It was shocking when we saw the footprint and how large it was,” Christopher said. “Until you see the footprint of the locations, I didn’t grasp how large it really was. I was a proponent for behind the amphitheater. But when I saw the footprint, I knew it couldn’t go there. You (on the task force) did the best you could. You picked the best of the three locations you had offered to you.”
The mayor said she wanted all possible sites at KRP explored, hence the orchards.
“If (Area B) is what people want, fine,” she said. “I think by Chemawa Road is one potential site, but I trust the people in this city to choose the best location. Maybe residents will choose that site, maybe they won’t. We only have one opportunity to get it right. We need to gather as much information before we make a decision. I don’t think you guys had that. You were given three choices. If we’re able to bring those 28 acres into the UGB, we may end up in the same area anyway. But we’ll know we have all the options and we chose this area.
“You’re not hurting my feelings,” Christopher added of Area B possibly being chosen. “It’s not my playground. The place by Chemawa Road is not ‘my’ spot. I know we needed more parking for the dog park. Area B parking is Nate’s concern. My concern is I don’t want children on Walsh’s Way competing with cars and trailers. It’s not visual enough there. Hopefully we’ll have a chance for the community to look and let them choose where. I’m in it 100 percent, regardless of where it is. I have no idea where the perfect site is, but we should have the opportunity.”