By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The owner of a planned cinema still hasn’t signed a lease to locate on a city-owned portion of land in Keizer Station, but all the evidence points to it becoming a reality.

At a meeting of the Keizer Planning Commission Wednesday, Nov. 8, the planning commission approved a design variance that will allow the theater building to have fewer windows and compensate for the lack with additional landscaping.

“The requirement is 50 percent glazing/windows on the ground floor according to the master plan for Keizer Station but, since it is a theater, that many windows wouldn’t work,” said Nate Brown, Keizer community development director.

In October 2016, Chuck Nakvasil, owner of several theaters in Oregon and Washington, approached the city about the possibility of a long-term lease on a portion of the land across from the Salem-Keizer Transit Center.

The city has been working out the lease details during the past year, but the request for a design variance is the surest sign yet that the plan is moving forward. The granting of a variance alone is a rarity for the city.

Since adopting its design code, only two variances have been granted. The first was for additional awnings at the Smoker Friendly location on River Road in 2004. The second, in 2005, was a waiver for a pedestrian access at the Willow Lake Treatment Facility. Approving such variances is also one of the few actions the Planning Commission can take without needing additional approval by the Keizer City Council.

Aside from the inherent problems of having windows in theater spaces, the request to replace windows with landscaping is an attempt to offset the size of the nine-screen theater.

“This planting plan is a natural-look with a random placement of vertical trees. It is a 35-foot building and the intent is to break up some of the verticality,” Brown said.

Jeremy Grenz, of Multitech Engineering, the engineering firm for the project, said he was personally excited to be involved in the project to bring a theater back to Keizer.

“That the city planners are willing to work with us tells me that they understand the excitement around this project,” Grenz said.

Keizer did have a theater in the past – located at what is now Skyline Ford – but it was shuttered in the 1990s.

Commissioner Garry Whalen asked whether the city or the tenant would be responsible for maintaining the landscaping given the nature of the lease. Brown said the theater owner would have responsibility for the maintenance.

Whalen also wanted it to be known that the variance was being approved because of the unique nature of the development, not because the city was trying to sidestep its own development code on property it owned.