Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Hospital at SCAN, Fred Meyer at Morningside: In the Neighborhoods this Week

SCAN meets on Wednesday the 14th, and the Hospital continues to make decisions that rub the neighborhood the wrong way.

Recently in an administrative "Minor Historic Review," the City approved plans for the sidewalk on the east side of Church Street at the Blind School property from the corner of Mission Street to the Pringle Park driveway.

The sidewalk will be widened from five feet to eight, but the expansion will be to the west, and that will take a bite out of the curb strip with grass and trees. There are 14 sweet gum trees whose roots might be disturbed and the neighborhood's Land Use and Transportation Committee is concerned about this.

When the whole sidewalk and "greenway" compromise went down, it had seemed like any expansion of the walkways should be on the interior side of the sidewalk, on the east side facing the interior of the property. The expansion west into land that is already part of the public right-of-way doesn't seem like it honors the spirit of the agreement to enhance the walking connection along here. It seems cheap to use only City right-of-way. Maybe that's not how the participants understood things, but to an outsider this seemed like a concession and trade the Hospital was making with the neighborhood to enhance the walking conditions. And now the Hospital's not really making that trade and concession.

Historic Stair Landing and Low Wall
(via the google, 2012, while Howard Hall stood)
You can also see there's a remnant staircase and - I don't know what to call it, anybody know? - sidewalk landing where an interior path greeted and joined the sidewalk, which will be retained as something of a picturesque ruin. It'll be interesting to see how that is handled - as random appendix or something with context and history.

Contested Plaque for the Hospital's Everson House
(vis the google, 2012)
And then, across the street, on the other corner of Mission and Church, neighbors have appealed the Historic Landmarks Commission decision to allow a "bronze finish plaque" on the corner above a low stone wall because it is out of character for the historic district's typical styles and is therefore incompatible with the historic district.

As satisfying as this might be as a "nuisance" for the Hospital, a NIMBY stick for a few more blows against a Goliathy, bull-in-a-china-shop not-very-nice neighbor, it's heading towards a really static notion of an historic district, something nearly fixed in amber. Would prohibiting a sign like this be a way to eliminate bike parking at the nearby Lord & Schryver museum? If we had managed to retain Howard Hall, would folks be upset if a new commercial use for that building required signage visible from the street?

Something makes me queasy about the reasons for the appeal, and it will be interesting to read the full Staff Report and appellant materials nearer the hearing. The Landmarks Commission already denied a request to insert backlit frosted glass blocks into the low stone wall - the stone wall across the street at the Bush House is meant to be the primary context for materials and appearance, I think. I worry sometimes that our approach to historic districts and historic places is less about preserving meaningful things from the past and taking them meaningfully into the future, than about making sure nothing changes. Sometimes it's building fences against time rather than bridges across time. (Certainly here there's an element of building fences against the Hospital's encroachment.)

The South Central Association of Neighbors meets Wednesday the 14th at 6:30 p.m. in the South Salem High School Library, 1910 Church St SE.


The Morningside Neighborhood Association also meets, and they'll be talking more about the developments proposed for the area of Kuebler, 27th, and Boone Road, adjacent to the I-5 interchange at Kuebler.

Commercial at Madrona looking towards Fred Meyer
They'll also discuss the possibility of a gas station for the Fred Meyer at Madrona and Commercial. Maybe Freds wants to use the part of the lot that used to be the bottle return. Or maybe there's a plan to use what I think was an old Les Schwab building that is now home to a cleaners and a rotating cast of delis.

Whatever they do, selling gas just seems like trouble here on the intersection.

It's already challenging for all users and further accommodating left turns across traffic seems like it would create more conflict sites along the road and sidewalk.

Widening at Commercial and Madrona
Fairview Traffic Impact Analysis
The traffic study for the Fairview redevelopment has already called for widening this intersection, and it continues to appear in the Commercial-Vista Corridor study, as it will not "meet operational standards...in the year 2035."

Septenber 2015 Open House Boards
Madrona also lacks bike lanes here, and on the surface it appears a logical candidate for widening to our "urban standard" of sidewalks, curbs and gutter, bike lanes, and center turn pocket with two through-lanes.

But all this is about "improving" through-put for cars and car users, and not about increasing human mobility for all users, increasing numbers of whom we should hope do not need to choose to make drive-alone trips with cars. Even as we backfill with bike lanes and enhanced sidewalks, the widening projects make an even greater degradation in conditions for those not in cars.

We probably won't get there in this round, but there are opportunities to rethink this intersection that improve it for all users, not just privileging those in cars.

The Morningside Neighborhood Association meets at Pringle Creek Community Painters Hall,  3911 Village Center Drive SE on Wednesday the 14th at 6:30 PM.

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