By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer City Council unanimously approved Safeway’s request to put in a fueling center at their River Road North location at its meeting Monday, July 17.

The decision is most noteworthy because the council permitted the grocer to construct a small 450-square-foot convenience store alongside the fueling center. Both city staff and the Keizer Planning Commission had opposed the inclusion of the accessory structure.

The specific action the council took was to modify an overlay zone that prevents automotive-related businesses from occupying an area around the intersection of Chemawa Road and River Road. The zone predates even Keizer’s development code and was put in place for reasons ranging from safety to aesthetics. The change approved allows gas stations as a conditional use.

In the final vote, Mayor Cathy Clark walked back her original position on the matter when she voted against even allowing a conversation about the change to happen. Clark had hoped to see more mixed use spaces, e.g. offices and retail, appear.

“I love the dream of more mixed use, but the reality is the funding. One thing that has not happened is a business coming in and put down money to help achieve that. This is a long-established business in Keizer willing to invest and add a service that is clearly in demand,” Clark said.

The decision also went against the wishes of the Keizer Fire District whose officials were unhappy that a traffic study submitted with the plan did not take into account the location’s proximity to the Keizer Fire Station and impacts on emergency services. No one representing the fire district spoke at the meeting, but Fire Board President Joe Van Meter submitted a letter opposing the change. In an effort to allay some of the district’s concerns, the zoning changes approved include a mandate that Safeway representatives work with fire district officials to mitigate traffic problems.

“In particular, I know the amendment calls out working with the KFD and we look forward to working on that,” said Seth King, a land use attorney representing Safeway at the meeting.

The fueling station is expected to generate an additional 600 daily trips through the area, but those numbers did not take into account the arrival of a second grocery store, Waremart by Winco, sometime in the near future.

Todd Paradise, a real estate manager for Safeway-Albertsons, the “c-store” associated with the fueling center, would not be what most think of as the traditional convenience store.

“We see a big difference between a c-store and a traditional convenience store of 3,000-4,000 square feet. This will carry a small selection of drinks and other items, no beer or wine,” Paradise said.

Paradise also noted that one of the already-permitted uses for the space would be an actual convenience store.

“I also know that if I had to walk up to a vault and push payment through a thick window, I would be concerned about safety in the area,” Paradise said. “That would indicate potential crime problems.”

The council also heard from some residents on the matter.

Hersch Sangster, chair of the Keizer Planning Commission, said commissioners had some disagreement on making the changes to allow the gas station but had a united voice against allowing the auxiliary sales building.

Mike DeBlasi, another member of the planning commission spoke as simply a resident, saying, “We need to think about the adaptability of the building. A gas station can only ever be a gas station.  If you say yes you are saying no to good development. A no vote puts Keizer on a path for financial stability and a better quality of life.”

Jerry McGee, who was on the council when the original overlay zone was put in place, encouraged the council to revisit the reasons for creating it.