Gambling proposal draws concerns

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The City Council’s consideration of a request to legalize Texas Hold-’em tournaments drew concerns over the parking situation around Chewy’s Tavern last week.

Neighboring business and parking lot owner Joel Keesecker asked the council to consider the potential parking problems related to the tournaments in its decision.

“Let me try to paint an imaginary picture for you,” Keesecker told the council on March 13. “I imagine all of you councilors have neighbors. And I imagine you are cordial, polite and honor your neighbor’s property; and your neighbor does the same.

“So now imagine a neighbor who loves to party. In fact, he is so good at partying everybody wants to come over to his place and party with him. The problem is your neighbor’s lot is too small to handle all of his guests. In fact, by the time he and his family park in front of his house, the only space left is across the street or, let’s see, in your nice, well-manicured lawn.

“The tire tracks are disturbing, but what really pushes you over the edge are the gifts your neighbor’s guests leave: cans, broken bottles, piles of cigarette butts, vomit, urinating on your house, etc.

“Now at first, you think this nice neighbor recognizes what his guests are doing and will try to accommodate his guests by providing other arrangements for parking, help with the cleanup or even communicate with you.

“Well, guess what. The neighbor does nothing. Now you read in the paper that your neighbor’s parties are going to be bigger and better. They’re going to be tournaments, and the city just gave its blessing on it.

“Your rights are squat since your house is smack dab in the middle of a special zone. Your neighbor doesn’t have to do anything, and his parties can get larger as long as he pays the city a new permit fee.”

Keesecker outlined what he sees as his options: continuing to pay taxes, paying a monthly cleaning fee and recoating his “lawn” every few years, if he were to choose to let the situation continue. Or, he said, he could start towing every vehicle that parks on the “lawn,” but that requires a 24-seven security guard. And third, he said, he could barricade the “lawn” with a fence, which sounds fine until costs are factored in, and “this nice friendly community will slowly become iron walls of isolation.”

If the city allows the poker tournaments, it will be the neighbors and local public safety departments that will finance the ordinance, Keesecker said. “By (Chewy’s owner Jim) Ashcraft’s own statement, the only reason he wants this ordinance to pass is to increase his own business, which means more cars and litter on other people’s property.”

Under current zoning, Ashcraft does not have to provide off-street parking, Keesecker said, and that’s a flaw in the ordinance for downtown commercial zones.

Sweet Home has a friendly downtown area that provides public parking for downtown customers, he said. He provides parking for his tenants, on the corner of 12th and Main, and he lets his neighbors use his parking lot at no expense.

The city’s parking lot is primarily for library and City Hall use, Keesecker said. He asked the council to consider all the costs and “dismiss the ordinance until the downtown zoning is addressed.”

If the gambling proposal passes, he suggested the city invest in more downtown parking, either by purchasing or leasing property.

“I don’t want the city to give its blessing on this ‘new, improved party’ without considering all the ramifications of this decision,” Keesecker said. “It would seem prudent to stop moving forward with another ordinance that burdens property owners and public safety and take a step back and re-evaluate the current zoning of the core downtown.”

The council has addressed downtown parking in the past, Councilor Jim Gourley said. “I think downtown parking is something we need to look at in the future.”

Even if ordinances are changed, the uses that do not have parking requirements already probably will be grandfathered, Council Rich Rowley said.

“Most of the storefronts on Main Street don’t have off-street parking,” City Manager Craig Martin said. Until the existing use changes or is discontinued, the city could not place new restrictions on the existing business.

The city tried to get businesses to get together and purchase a lot together to provide downtown parking, Mayor Craig Fentiman said. At the same time, he has concerns about requiring off-street parking downtown.

Rowley agreed that it is not fair for parking lot owners, whose property is private, to have others use their lots without some form of compensation.

In other business, the council:

– Chose to give a “no recommendation” to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission on a license application from Mr. Lucky’s Deli, which will be located at 1207 Long St.

– Appointed high school senior Lena Meyers to the Youth Advisory Council.

– Approved a three-year contract with police employees. Police employees will receive a 4-percent raise the first and second year of the contract and a 3-percent raise the third year with a 2-percent raise on Jan. 1, 2010. They will continue to split the cost of insurance with the city, paying 5 percent of their premiums. A longevity raise, based on merit, will provide a 2-percent raise for employees with more than eight years experience with the department.

– Learned that Kim Lawrence had resigned from the Planning Commission. For information on applying, call 367-8969 or stop at City Hall, 1140 12th Ave. The council is planning to review its process for filling the position at its next meeting, March 27.