The man with the plans

Keizer City Planner Shane Witham in his city hall office. Photo by: LYNDON ZAITZ

Shane Witham started his long employment history with Keizer as a facility maintenance worker when he was about 20 years old. Twenty-six years later he is Keizer’s city planner.

Witham has almost three decades of institutional knowledge and planning under his belt. After his predecessor, Community Development Director Nate Brown, retired, Witham was named interim director. Some of the duties of community development have shifted to City Manager Adam Brown; Shane concentrates on planning for the city—both residential and commercial.

There are many parts of planning and development that he must keep at the tip of his fingers.

“Here in Keizer, one of the primary functions that we deal with is we work with developers that come in and they want to develop a property,” explained Witham. “We talk to them about what the development code will allow for.”

Day to day tasks of the planning department is  city development code administration or zoning code administration. Also, approving subdivisions and building permits.

Witham keeps his eye on the future, too. Another element of planning concerns more long range planning documents, such as the comprehensive plan, which is a 20-year look at goals and policies that move the city toward what the policy-setters, city council and, ultimately, the citizens want to see what the city should look like in the future.

The Keizer Planning Commission, comprised of seven volunteers from the community appointed by the city council, is an integral piece of the process.

Planning commissions are established by state statute. Cities are required to have a planning commission, which is designated as a decision-making body for certain types of land use decisions.

For example, “If a new master plan comes in for Keizer Station or for one of those other places, it would go to the Planning Commission for first approval, then they recommend to the city council,” Witham said.

The Planning Commission also addresses changes to laws and day-to-day administration of the city’s development code.

Planning and development decisions in the city are not completely up to Keizer.

Witham said, “What’s unique with the Keizer area is, as far as planning goes, there is a regional element to everything that we do here.

“Being a part of Marion County, being within the shared urban growth boundary of Salem, Keizer and the county, there is definitely coordination that has to take place. And while we are our own independent city, the region is definitely dependent on one another because it’s a shared job market. It’s frankly a shared housing market.”

For decades the shared urban growth boundary has been under discussion. “Within our region, there is still capacity for growth in both population and job base,” said Witham. “So it does require coordination between the different government entities,”

A Keizer native, Witham is a cheerleader for the city.

“I’m a strong believer that a vibrant community needs diversity,” said Witham. “It needs diversity in income levels, it needs diversity in the socionomic aspects but also the cultural aspects for it to be a healthy community,” he said. “(Keizer) is a fairly homogenous community. We have to have plans in place that say here’s the market is what drives development.”

The look of Keizer’s neighborhoods are changing. With the approval of development of ADUs (accessory dwelling units), cottage clusters and a higher density, in the near future residents will see added housing units sharing a large lot with an existing dwelling.

The planning department, the Planning Commission and the city council all react to public comment about existing codes, especially when they impede development. If a standard is out of date or is creating a problem for somebody, those issues are addressed.

Housing is one part of Witham’s planning focus, the other is commercial development.

New laws have been passed with the climate-friendly Equitable Communities rules, which requires climate-friendly areas. Witham prefers to call them walkable mixed use areas. “Within our area we have to designate these areas and the state has kind of defined what those areas need to look like,” he said.

Commercial development in Keizer can be built on empty land, such as in Keizer Station, via mixed used projects, or redevelopment of existing commercial properties.

Area D at Keizer Station (south of Chemawa Road, north of the water tower) has seen a 7-Eleven store and gas station along with a Chick-fil-A restaurant, with more development in the plan. Area B (north of Lockhaven, east of McLeod Lane) sits empty, waiting for planned projects to get started.

Armed with an associate’s degree from Chemeketa Community College and some classes at Corbin University, Shane Witham keeps his eye on the look of Keizer, assuring that development meets the city’s codes. His is surrounded by bound copies of Keizer’s comprehensive and development codes, ready for easy access to answer any questions that come up during his day.

A graduate of McNary High School, Shane and his his wife, Maleah, are empty-nesters. Their three children are off at college, one at George Fox University and two at Grand Canyon University. The couple recently moved to a smaller house, but Shane Witham remains Keizer through and through.