By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Approval at the Keizer City Council level does not mean apartments and a retirement community in Keizer Station Area C are a done deal.
After all, this is Area C we’re talking about – the area where a Walmart was reported to be going in back in 2011 before backlash led to the project coming to a halt.
Previous decisions were appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), which forced changes to plans that at one point included a 116,000 square foot commercial space.
The last commercial plans for the property were submitted by Chuck Sides in the fall of 2012, but ended up not happening.
Mountain West Investments and Bonaventure Senior Living teamed up last fall on a proposal calling for 180 apartments (Mountain West) spread out over two buildings across from each other on an expanded McLeod Lane and 154 units (Bonaventure) in a facility ranging from one story in places to four stories in other places. The two Salem-based companies will also be taking care of infrastructure that can be used for future commercial development, including McLeod Lane being punched out towards Ridge Drive.
Councilors waded through more than 500 pages of documents and approved the proposal last week. Brian Moore with Mountain West said he is hoping to break ground by mid-year.
“It’s our desire to start construction in June,” Moore said following last week’s meeting.
Ben Settecase with Bonaventure Senior Living wasn’t as committed to a timeline, but did say starting in 2015 would be fine with him.
“There are a lot of factors, down to the weather,” Settecase said. “If those factors go well, if we feel comfortable with the stormwater downstream analysis and the reimbursement district, if things fell into place for sometime in 2015 that would be great. But the infrastructure has to go first, with McLeod Lane.”
Sam Litke, senior planner for Keizer, said an order approving the master plan will come to councilors at their Feb. 17 meeting.
“Once that is done there will be a 21-day appeal period,” Litke said. “If no one appeals then they are good to go. They would have to comply with the conditions of approval such as having the property surveyed, doing the storm water analysis, getting the construction drawings for the public improvements reviewed and approved.”
Of course, past experience shows an appeal to LUBA could change everything.
“If it is appealed to LUBA then it would likely take several months until there is decision from LUBA what with putting together the record, written arguments, hearing and then decision,” Litke said.
Appeals to the previous plan were spearheaded by Kevin Hohnbaum with Keep Keizer Livable, who came out against the revised plans last fall. Hohnbaum credited Moore and Settecase with revising plans – including adding more trees – based on concerns he raised, but was still surprised by some of what he saw in council chambers last week.
“I expected approval,” Hohnbaum said. “But I expected a bit more discussion among councilors. I was really surprised they voted to not install stoplights at McLeod (and Chemawa Road) until commercial development starts. Traffic impact is one of the greatest concerns. The traffic is not good now. Putting in (180) apartments and (154) senior living units and no stoplights, to me that is insane. That is just crazy.”
Further, Hohnbaum questions whether the new development fits into the area.
“It’s a really nice way to squeeze an elephant into a Volkswagen,” he said. “It doesn’t fit to have a four-story building added into that neighborhood. You see the pink house there now, then picture a four-story building 200 feet behind that. It just does not make sense. It just does not fit. It’s a very pretty elephant they squeezed into a Volkswagen.”
So will Hohnbaum be protesting last week’s decision?
“I don’t anticipate doing that, no,” he said. “It’s too early to say at this point. City staff has to create the ordinance and council has to vote on that. Staff may come back with something that doesn’t look like that. I don’t anticipate doing something unless it comes back drastically different.”
Most vocal in his criticism to the current proposal has been Jack Yarbrough, who owns Area C land adjacent to the property being used.
“At this point I don’t have any comment,” Yarbrough said when asked if he plans to appeal. “I’m having some people who are much smarter than me look at it. I didn’t like how they did it so quickly. I just want to make sure I know what I’m talking about before I give my opinion. I’m having an expert in the field give me an opinion. That will determine if I appeal it or not.
“I was ill prepared for the hearing,” he added. “I didn’t get a notice. I was out of town for two or three weeks. It isn’t the developer’s problem. I just want to make sure I know what I’m talking about. I haven’t had a chance to review every document they provided. I will do that with an expert. That’s my opinion at this point.”