By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Imagine for a moment sitting atop one of the 100 largest private employers in the nation according to Forbes magazine. Last year, revenues for your company clocked in at $6.3 billion.

On a local level, fans of your company  launched social media campaigns hoping to court you to their city where only one other major competitor exists. When you make a decision and announce a new store opening it is – without hyperbole – the biggest story of the entire year for that town.

But, when the city’s community development director sits down with you to discuss the designs for a $2.3 million remodel of the building, you tell him that putting trees in the parking lot is a “dealbreaker.”

A similar conversation laid the groundwork for the most recent meeting of the Keizer Planning Commission. Along with city staff, the group spent almost two hours discussing the intricacies of the city’s landscaping codes as it relates to new and re-development.

“When you have Taco Bell gut their building, there was no requirement for them to bring the site up to (landscaping) compliance. When Waremart comes in, they are doing interior remodeling and there’s no requirement to do landscaping in the parking lot. Our intent is to say if you are doing a remodel, you need to address the landscaping requirements,” said Nate Brown, Keizer community development director.

The changes, which were approved in a 5-1 vote, will now go to the council. If approved there, developers – regardless of size – will pay an additional 1 percent of their costs into the city’s public art fund. That fund can be used for a wide variety of public amenities ranging from highly-visible major efforts like the Iris Festival Parade mural to more subtle additions like public benches. Developers would get to choose whether to invest the money somewhere in their own property or pay into the fund, which would allow the money to be used elsewhere in the city.

While there was some quibble over whether the charge was a tax or something else, the amount is somewhat negligible. On a $100,000 construction or remodeling project, the city would collect $1,000. Brown said a public bench like the ones currently along River Road costs $1,400.

He added that conversation about collecting the fee would also be a tool to prompt engagement on the part of the business community.

“Right now, we can’t go to them and tell them they need to think about how they are participating in the community or raising the level of livability,” Brown said. “Keizer is growing up and we are a significant city, and I honestly think we need to start paying more attention to our sense of place. This is a way to start moving that dial just slightly.”

While city staff recommended collecting the fee on projects only worth $100,000 or more, the recommendation from the commissioners would apply it to all projects.

Commissioner Hersch Sangster asked whether such a fee could be a financial dealbreaker for a business choosing between Keizer and a nearby city.

“Our SDCs (system development charges) are 50 percent less than neighboring jurisdictions. We are significantly less. This doesn’t even push us close to that territory,” Brown replied.

Commissioner Garry Whalen, who was the sole no vote, suggested that the fee would be seen as a negative in the business community, and wanted assurances the money wouldn’t sit and accumulate for years on end.

“If we are going to exact a 1 percent fee, there needs to be a commitment back from the city that it will be spent within X years. If it isn’t spent, don’t just rathole the money and have it not doing any good for anybody – give it back,” Whalen said.

The consensus was that placing a deadline on spending the money collected would limit the scope of public amenity projects that could be considered.

Commissioners also deliberated on where such amenities should be placed. Brown originally envisioned the majority of them being placed on the subject property, but it raised concerns about ownership, maintenance, and liability/safety, for some commissioners.

Commissioner Kyle Juran, who recently completed remodeling his own space on River Road North, suggested he would rather not have a public amenity placed on his property.

“I wouldn’t want a fountain or park bench that the public can use because of the tightness of the space,” Juran said.

The council will take up the recommendation at a future meeting.