File photo

File photo

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Citing traffic concerns, impacts to schools, construction concerns and livability issues, Keizer residents sounded off against the proposed rezoning of the area affectionately known as the “cow park.”

Owners of the property, heirs to the Joseph and Rosalie Herber, are asking the city to rezone the 7.5 acres located along the west side of Verda Lane Northeast between Chemawa Road Northeast and Dearborn Avenue Northeast from low density residential to medium high density residential, which would permit the construction of 112 apartments on the site.

The rezoning was denied by the city council two years ago citing the need for single family residences, impacts on nearby residences and transportation impacts, but developer Mark Grenz appeared before the Keizer City Council Monday, June 20, with rejiggered plans and another request for a rezone.

If the property were to remain low density residential, up to 50 single family homes could be built there.

The  public hearing on the matter was extended after it came to light that there is possible historic value to the home already on the site, but city residents wasted little time in attempting to dismantle the proposal as it currently exists.

While the city has a projected need for apartments during the next 20 years, using the Herber property to meet the need didn’t fly with nearby resident Judith Odle.

“We already have 405 apartments, 105 mobile homes, three churches, four schools and Keizer Little League Park in a six-block radius. We’ve got a lot already,” Odle said.

Her husband, Larry Odle questioned whether the time being spent on rezoning couldn’t be spent more wisely.

“Couldn’t we have come up with a solution that benefitted the community and still get the Herbers their inheritance?” he asked.

The issue of the city purchasing the property came up tangentially throughout the proceedings. After the hearing ended, much of the packed house filed out of chambers and no one spoke when the council opened up another hearing on suggestions for using and estimated $325,000 in funds the city will receive shared state revenues.

Traffic impacts topped the list of concerns with several residents chiming in on topics ranging from an increased number of vehicles in an already busy corridor to where overflow parking for the apartments would end up.

Resident Karen Okada picked apart a statement detailing the impact to schools in the area. Salem-Keizer School District officials estimated an increase of about 41 total students to Kennedy Elementary School, Claggett Creek Middle School and McNary High School, but Okada took issue with the rest of the impacts.

“In their letter, (the school district) suggests that the developer should provide paved walk routes to allow access. Right now, the two streets leading from the proposed apartments to Kennedy do not have sidewalks, but that is not part of their proposal. It is another cost the city will have to bear,” Okada said.

Several opponents said the owners’ proposal to donate a tax lot west of the development to the city for use as a park was disingenuous.

“The property to be donated is pretty much under water during the rainy season. I’m wondering how you could do much with that property,” said Marylin Prothero.

Testimony also focused repeatedly around proposed apartment designs. While Grenz offered up potential previews of the structures in his presentation, the land would likely be sold to another developer if the rezone is approved, at which point it would be up to the new developer to determine how the buildings would actually look.

“The plan seems like a red herring. I’ve been a carpenter and I can tell you from experience that developers are not concerned about the community. They want to put the most families in for the least cost,” said Casey Sanders.

Nate Brown, Keizer community development director, said city staff was willing to work with the current owners to come up with more concrete design standards that would become conditions once a new developer buys the property, but that did little to alleviate anxiety.

“Realistically, how much time is the city willing to spend to enforcing those guidelines?” asked Jerry Walton.

Resident Paul Elder said he moved with his wife to Keizer to raise their family and the proposed rezoning would affect the overall quality of life.

“I understand the Herber family wants the property value (that comes with a different zoning), but that door swings both ways. I don’t want the impact this is going to have on our community,” Elder said. “Homes make families, not a transient (apartment) population. We want people who are in it for the long haul.”