By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

After numerous discussions during city council and planning commission meetings, the city council declined to approve a program that would have given city staff the tools and funding to begin to reshape River Road North.

The council took up the issue for a third time at the city council meeting Monday, Oct. 2. The city’s planning commission had recommended an amendment to the Keizer development code that would have required new and redevelopment of commercial properties to set aside 1 percent of a project’s total cost to create public amenities. The amenities could be included in development plans onsite or the business could opt to pay an equivalent amount into a fund for public art.

While the council approved changes that will require businesses redeveloping property interiors to bring landscaping up to code, the council removed a section of the amendment establishing the public amenity requirement. In lieu of the public amenity assessment, the council directed staff to “work with the Keizer Chamber (of Commerce) and others to come up with viable options to beautify our city.”

City staff began investigating the possibility of requiring additional investment in public amenities when two River Road businesses –Winco and Taco Bell – balked at including additional landscaping improvements to coincide with large-scale interior remodels.

“I have heard from business owners, the council and the Chamber that we have to do something about upgrading River Road,” said Nate Brown, Keizer community development director. “We know (the assessment) represents and impact on people and businesses. But if we want to change someone is going to be impacted, nothing is going to change because it is a nice thing to do.”

The council ended up having the equivalent of two public hearings on the matter. After the first one in August, the council directed staff to draft an ordinance that included the public amenity requirements. However, additional parties spoke on the issue the next time it was addressed in September and led to a re-opening of the hearing. Specifically, councilors requested some way to address the difference in types of development, e.g. a medical office costing more to develop even though it is smaller than a retail space.

At the council meeting last week, the same two detractors, Alan Roodhouse, a developer for some properties at Keizer Station, and Jonathan Thompson, a local business owner and chair of the Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee spoke out again.

Thompson said at least one member of the chamber had spoken with each member of the city council in the intervening weeks about the public amenity issue.

“What we are asking is for folks to take a step back and gather people around the table. Many of the issues are things we are concerned about as well, and if we get everyone around the table we can solve a lot of these issues,” Thompson said.

Thompson added that for small projects the 1 percent assessment might be only $100, but that “it’s not that it’s $100, it’s that it’s another $100.” He was alluding to the various types of fees charged by government agencies throughout the state depending on the type of business, but did not delineate as to whether those fees were assessed at the city level or higher up the chain.

Roodhouse, who is helping Kaiser Permanente develop a new dental office in Keizer Station, argued that Keizer Station should be exempted from the assessment if it went forward.

“We agreed to and helped design a number of public amenities. Keizer Station has paid its dues,” Roodhouse said.

After approving the ordinance without the public amenity assessment in a 6-1 vote, Councilor Amy Ryan defended her “no” vote.

“We are not being not business friendly, we are being anti-business. Government is kicking businesses’ butts on all levels. I feel like this is another fee. We have to help them, attract them and support them when they come,” Ryan said.