Monday, September 5, 2016

At the Planning Commission: The Uphill Climb for Walkable Neighborhoods

The Planning Commission meets on Tuesday the 6th, there are a few things to note about the ways we still struggle to make the land-use-health-transportation connections.

In one is news about a significant procedural change:
Previously, it was policy of the City of Salem Planning Commission to make the determination for approval of a comprehensive plan map amendment. However, in light of a recent decision by the Land Use Board of Appeals...the City of Salem has adjusted the policy to be consistent with State Law [that a comprehensive plan map amendment must be adopted by a local government's governing body].
So now we'll be seeing a whole bunch of this as boilerplate:
Approval of the zone change and site plan review decision shall be contingent on the City Council's decision on the Comprehensive Plan Map Change.
Every time the Planning Commission looks at a Comprehensive Map Plan Change in tandem with a zoning change, one of the Conditions of Approval will be this contingency.

So effectively that means there's an automatic appeal to Council every time.

Does this mean the end of the Planning Commission as a meaningful quasi-judicial review board?

Will this add to a desire to simplify and even eliminate parts of our exclusionary zoning scheme that really hampers our ability to create walkable neighborhoods?

Change at the Tennis Club

The matter in which the new contingency and Condition of Approval appeared is a proposal to change the zoning for the Salem Tennis and Swim Club:
In 1962, the Marion County Planning Commission granted a variance to the Salem Tennis and Swim Club to construct buildings, tennis courts and swimming pools for use exclusively for community club purposes by a non-profit community club...the applciant is seeking to change the ownership and operation of the existing club facility from non-profit to for-profit ownership [which requires a zoning change].
There must be an interesting story here. In the applicant materials they say
Unfortunately, the Club needs to sell the property and facilities. Fortunately, for the current members of the Club, the Applicant is willing and able to step in and purchase the Subject Property and facilities and continue to tennis and swim operation...
The Kroc Center has struggled, the YMCA and YWCA have struggled - is the model of the fitness and recreation club undergoing some real demographic and structural change?

It seems like there are better ways to incorporate moderate exercise into daily routines and that the drive-to-exercise-indoors model may be decreasingly popular. (More on that down below.)

One of the other Conditions of Approval is the addition of 14 bike parking spots. It was calculated by "one space per tennis court," which seems like it would still underserve a swim and tennis center located in a flat part of town. Since apparently there was less bike parking on the submitted plans, it may be that the clientele all drive or are perceived to all drive. But this seems like a place where there would be tremendous latent demand that would materialize with high-quality bike parking.

Pembrook Apartments and Reserve at Red Leaf

The Pembrook Apartments are at the Commission for a site plan review, and it just seems like more could be done at this commercial node right by a major grocery store and shopping center to make the complex more walkable and less autoist. (Previous notes here and here.)

Somewhat walkable
Along the northern border of the property, connecting the cul-de-sac with the park, there will be a five-foot wide sidewalk path. It will be fenced in, though, for privacy of the ground floor patios and windows. But that also means it will be a narrow, fenced corridor with low visibility. Sure it offers privacy - but that works both ways, and there may be too much privacy on the path itself.

Once this complex is no longer shiny and new, I wonder if its design will contribute to a slow fade to blight.

By contrast, the proposal for the Reserve at Red Leaf brings the apartment blocks much closer to the sidewalk and deploys parking on the sides or behind the buildings.

Although the form of this complex is a little better for walking, it is near no business or retail, and walkscore rates it car-dependent.

Somehow we need to do a better job of shaping and correlating walkable site plans with walkable city locations.

The Disconnect

Yesterday there was a Letter to the Editor in support of the Healthy Eating Active Living project announced at Council the other day.

The writer says:
Salem would be wise to consider land use for projects that include walking, bicycling, and outdoor lifestyles. Hopefully, Salem will consider the importance of keeping the recreational areas we already have. Creekside Golf Club is an example of an existing recreational facility we are in danger of losing.
HEAL on Land Use
But the kind of land use changes we are really talking about are the kind that makes it possible to walk or bike to the grocery store for a gallon of milk instead of hopping into the car for the trip. It's about making possible, making attractive, and actually substituting active transport trips for passive, driving trips. It's about starting a walking or biking trip from your front door, not about driving to a park or recreation site and then walking or biking. It's about quotidian routines, not special event or appointment walking and biking that envision the walking and biking as an adjunct to a car trip. More like walking that is an adjunct to a bus trip!

Recently another angle on this came across the newswire. For the Oxford University journal, Health Promotion International, in "Automobile, construction and entertainment business sector influences on sedentary lifestyles," scholars write
Sedentary lifestyles contribute to premature death and health inequalities. Researchers have studied personal and community-level determinants of inactivity but few have analyzed corporate influences. To reframe the public health debate on inactivity and open new doors for public sector intervention, we conducted a scoping review of evidence from several disciplines to describe how the business and political practices of the automobile, construction, and entertainment sectors have encouraged sedentary lifestyles. In the last 50 years, these industries have found it profitable to produce motor vehicles, housing, and entertainment, which intentionally or unintentionally discourage physical activity. Ceding primary authority for policy decisions in these sectors to the market-based economy has enabled the growth of powerful lobbies that encourage and maintain sedentary lifestyles.
Our drive-to-exercise-indoors model is actually consistent with this and reinforces the sedentary default for autoist transport.

Right now the links in transportation-fitness-land-use sit very lightly on the surface, and we are not thinking very structurally or strategically about making change. That's the hurdle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why yes there's an interesting story on the tennis club: