Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planning Commission to Discuss Alley North of Cemetery

Tonight the Planning Commission will discuss the alley north of the Pioneer Cemetery.

Back in April Council voted to initiate vacating the alleyway. The new staff report is mostly the same from the Council session, but also contains a little bit of new information.

The report gives a summary of a field trip!
On July 27th, the Friends of the Pioneer Cemetery gave a tour of the cemetery for the Bike and Walk Salem Advisory Committee and other interested parties. Approximately 30 people were in attendance...Several opinions were expressed along the tour. One attendee noted that a connection between the Fairmount neighborhood and the Pioneer Cemetery would likely result in additional volunteers interested in working with the Friends of the Pioneer Cemetery. Several reiterated the need for a bicycle/pedestrian connection across the cemetery while some noted the risk of potential damage to Pioneer Cemetery from additional people being attracted to the area as a result of a new path connection.
It was indeed a good crowd on hand and there was much to learn about the cemetery's significance and the importance of taking care of this historic place.

At the end of the trip, as we talked in more detail about the rich history, a person in a large SUV drove into the cemetery along the gravel loop road. She let her dog out and while remaining in the SUV followed the dog as it exercised. She made several circuits in the heavy car and was apparently a regular visitor. The Friends of Pioneer Cemetery lamented the fact they had to clean up after the dog because the dog's owner usually declined to get out of the SUV, preferring to drive around and around, perhaps listening to music or enjoying air conditioning.

Clearly even managing visitors in cars was a challenge. Maybe part of the answer is restricting car use in the cemetery to the elderly and disabled, and asking the able-bodied to park outside and walk.

Overall, staff recommends that Planning Commission advise Council to "approve" the vacation. Curiously, it also finds
Vacating this portion of right-of-way does not satisfy a compelling public need.
Since at least the 1980s there has been interest in a path through the cemetery, and this may or may not meet the definition of "public need." So contrary to staff recommendation, it seems like it would be prudent to retain the right-of-way for the public until it is determined it is no longer needed. The cemetery is a big barrier, and forcing people to use River Road or Commercial for their north-south travel is a significant impediment to active transportation.

Additionally, more eyes and ears on the cemetery ought in balance to help with security and preservation. Surely there is a way to balance the needs of different users while also improving security and preservation values. Hopefully conversation can continue.

More on the Field Trip

Elizabeth Walton Potter (right) led the tour and shared history at the Pioneer Cemetery. An expert on cemeteries, Potter wrote National Register Bulletin 41, Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places and is a principal in Friends of Salem Pioneer Cemetery.

Later, after people had dispersed, we talked about early path building. This County statement for work on "Bicycle Path No. 4, Mehama to Stayton" from June 30th, 1899, and an attached receipt from July 1st, 1899, involves principals buried here, District Roadmaster John W. Irvine and County Judge Grover P. Terrell.

The county was small and family connections are thick. Irvine was married to Terrell's daughter! Terrell himself had married Emma Smith, the daughter of James and Mehama Smith, who gave the town of Mehama its name. All six are buried in the cemetery together.

Early Salemites would have walked, ridden a horse, driven a carriage or wagon, biked, or taken the streetcar. Driving an auto to the cemetery is, of course, a distinctly 20th century activity.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Readers have suggested I did not adequately explain the time-line and decision points. It is confusing and I'm sorry for the lack of clarity. - so here's an outline that's hopefully better:

1) For the April 11th Council meeting, staff originally recommended postponing a decision on vacating the alley so a potential route could be further studied.
2) Council, however, voted 8-0 to proceed with the vacation - to initiate it. (The complete reversal was not expected!)
3) The Planning Commission agenda item was more an advisory courtesy - I don't think the commission actually has a binding say on the question.
4) Consistent with the Council vote, the new staff recommendation is to proceed with the vacation.
5) It will go back to Council for a Public Hearing and final vote on Sept 26th.

So no final decision has been made, but the likely outcome at present is to privatize this land and increase the cost of necessary easements in the future if the logical alignment on the border of the two cemeteries is maintained. (Increasingly I think a route through City View rather than the Pioneer Cemetery is best, but I don't think that's directly relevant here - a path on either side of the boundary could connect easily to the alley.)