Planning commission tables urban transition zone talks

Members of the Keizer Planning Commission discussed options for transforming a limited section of the city’s development code at its meeting Wednesday, March 13, but were uncomfortable with making a recommendation before engaging property owners to discuss the matter with them.

At issue is a section of the development code called Urban Transition (UT) zone. The zone applies to only 118 residences in Keizer. The city’s planning department would like to lower the bar for property owners to develop those properties, but still maintain some oversight of how the spaces get developed.

Currently, owners of property zoned UT must apply for conditional use permits to make substantial changes to their spaces. That process requires extra time and expense for the city

“The one value is that the conditional use process gives the ability to look at infrastructure connections and where people are siting things so it doesn’t preclude redevelopment. Don’t want to take housing opportunity off the books for future growth,” said Shane Witham, the city’s senior planner.

If the UT zone was changed according to the desires of the city staff, owners would submit a plat map showing where any proposed structures would be sited and give the city approval over the siting to ensure it doesn’t preclude future development on the site or on neighboring properties.

“We have to acknowledge the property rights and they have to acknowledge the urban context,” said Nate Brown, Keizer development director.

The UT zone was established for properties that, at one time, were not adequately served by water and sewer lines and were essentially buffer zones as development petered out into rural areas. Since then, most of the land has been developed, but many of the lots are larger than what is found in a traditional residential zone within the city and could be redeveloped to help Keizer absorb some of its expected growth.

The question for the planning commission was where they wanted changes to originate. The planning commission could issue a recommendation to the city council to revise the development code, or the change could be enacted legislatively directly by the city council.

In either case, members of the planning commission wanted to hear from affected residents. The dominant concern was making a change that had unexpected consequences.

“I think we have a lot of unanswered questions and we need to talk with the property owners. I understand the methodology, but I’m concerned about individual rights,” said Garry Whalen, chair of the commission. “We need more information and to invite the property owners to come here and talk with us.”

Brown said he didn’t expect there to be much backlash, but notifying property owners and inviting them to attend the next planning commission could alleviate confusion.

“What we are proposing is not radical, but there will be a lot of, ‘I don’t know what this means,’” Brown said.

A public hearing on the issue was continued until the commission’s next meeting Wednesday, April 10.