To UGB or not to UGB?

The Keizer Planning Commission is recommending the city absorb its projected growth for the next 20 years within the existing city limits, but asked for a more detailed plan that moves the Keizer toward expanding its Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).  

The commission spent its entire October 9 meeting discussing one recommendation from a recent report on housing needs and available land in Keizer. Commissioners discussed the rest of the report in September, but set aside the question of how to grow for a dedicated meeting. 

A committee that oversaw the study recommended the city grow within its limits, but city staff wanted the planning commission to weigh in as well. Three options were presented: expand the UGB, absorb growth through infill or a combination of the two. 

The biggest obstacle to expanding the UGB is cost, both in dollars and staff time as the city attempts to establish its own UGB separate from Salem.

“If we get a divorce, be prepared for some major expenses,” said Nate Brown, Keizer community development director. 

“Even in the most amicable divorces there will be collateral damage,” added Shane Witham, Keizer senior planner. 

The collateral impacts could present themselves in the need to add more staff to process permit requests, maintaining public infrastructure like streets and sewers or interrupt the flow of transportation in the city. 

Commissioner Mark Caillier said he has touted the idea of Keizer having its own UGB, but the costs associated with it give him pause and the possibility of having to add an additional high school looms large over the discussion. 

“I feel like if you go from one high school to two, you split the community in half. That already happened to a degree when we added Claggett Creek [Middle School],” Caillier said. “But I don’t think we can keep Keizer the same way it is today. Residential development, even with the initial [development] fees, does not cover the expenses of fire and police.”

If Keizer was able to get a divorce from Salem and expand its UGB, the cost of homes in the expanded areas could be so high that many current Keizer residents couldn’t afford them. Development charges to cover new infrastructure could be as much as 10 times the rate in current green field development, but those spaces are diminishing quickly. 

“If we go that [infill] route, can we say we’ll embrace this financially further on down the road?” asked Commissioner Frank Hostler. 

As the meeting unfurled, that idea got the most traction. 

“It’s something we need to take 10-15 years to save for. With the infill, we redesign the base and fees and that gets us saving toward divorce,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Watson. 

While support grew, commissioners worried that they were kicking the can down the road.

“We will get to the point where we are bursting at the seams,” said Commissioner Matt Lawyer. 

To avoid painting the city into a corner with infill as the only option, Brown said the commission could recommend going the infill route and request city staff establish benchmarks for progress toward the eventual expansion of the UGB. Moving forward on that path gave commissioners a way forward and a stake in the process. 

“I would be interested in benchmarks, how they will be measured and how attainable they will be,” said Commissioner Jeremy Grenz. 

Brown and Witham agreed to come back with benchmark proposals in the coming months. 

Contact the reporter at [email protected]. (With a tip ‘o the hat to Shane Witham who proposed a killer headline.)