Sunday, February 26, 2012

City Council, Feb 27th - Airport Expansion and Mixed Use Bone Parcel

If only the City pursued improvements for people who walk and bike with the same zeal they pursue improvements for people who own jets and other aircraft.

We have a small, storefront airport, and given the track record of consistent failure without gigantic subsidies, and the prospects for increasing fuel costs, it seems most reasonable to conclude that Salem is best served by airports in Portland and Eugene.

Surely as far as regional transportation goes the community would be better served by focusing our energies and our dollars on improving rail connectivity to Portland and Eugene.

On Monday Council will entertain a proposal to accept the new Airport Master Plan for runway expansion and forward it to FAA, and to schedule a hearing before the Planning Commission on the amendments.


An expansion seems like a real inefficient use money, that will benefit a disproportionate few, and be blow to sustainability. Several commenters on the plan agree. Citing the history of declining activity, one writer says "there is simply no need for Salem's airport to expand in any way":
1993: Horizon Airlines stops commercial service here because the airline had only 1,733 passengers for 534 flights, which is an average of 3.25 passengers per flight.

2000: The City funds a study on how to regain commercial service to the tune of $5,000.

2004-2.005: The city and Horizon procure $500,000 from the FAA to offset Horizon's costs for resuming regular service to Salem. Even so, Horizon declines to return.

2006-2008: Airport management invites Silver State Helicopters to open a flight school in Salem. Some ninety students are recruited, each of whom pays upwards of $60,000 to lenders up front. When Silver State turns out to be a Ponzi scheme- something airport management could have determined ahead of time had they done due diligence- those students are left with mountainous debt and no pilot's licenses.

2007: In a further desperate attempt to attract commercial service, the city procures half a million dollars from the US Department of Transportation and local businesses pledge another half million to lure Delta/SkyWest to Salem. After 16 months, Delta/SkyWest cancels its service.

2011: In April, SeaPort begins commercial service. The city spends $10,000 on marketing and gives SeaPort $4,500 in fee waivers. SeaPort departs in July after providing service for a total of four months.
Ugh. And if the proposed expansion is more to benefit private commercial interests than to provide for the efficient transportation of people generally - well, then there's even less reason for the public to subsidize it.

Minto Bridge and Path

More positively, there will be updates on the Minto path and bridge, one to Urban Renewal Agency, the other to Council proper. Though it's still concerning the City wants to spin it as a transportation corridor. There is no universe in which 21,700 non-automobile commuters will use it.

(It is disappointing that there seems to be no project on which traffic estimates are not wildly inflated: The Rivercrossing, the Airport Runway, and the Minto Bridge all seem to need grossly over-optimistic traffic projections - how the heck can we make good decisions on such lousy data? It makes you think cynically that "good decisions" are beside the point.)

Final hearing on the Bone Property

As much as I want to embrace the Bone parcel mixed use concept, the whole ensemble as presently constituted just doesn't look like a recipe for success.

It's hard to know what to say on exactly (staff report here). West Salem needs more walkable neighborhoods desperately. But the case for this particular one is far from overwhelming. (Previous thoughts on the transportation side here.)

Contrast this with the Boise / Pringle Square development. While we might quibble with the exact characteristics of the proposed development (here and here, for example), it seems clear that redevelopment should happen there. That one is an obvious "yes" in a way this one is not.

The public comment on the Bone parcel is interesting, ranging widely, but with few actually commenting. The farmer currently there says:
The property is currently being farmed in small grains rotated with legumes, and because of the odd shaped boarder containing 17 comers, it is difficult to cultivate efficiently. This point coupled with the surrounding residential neighborhood, and nearby residents who don't appreciate the dust, noise, or various inputs required to farm the property as a certified organic farm. Every year, a complaint is entered with the code enforcement division concerning a fire hazard as the crop ripens and dries out. Also dust complaints are called to me, as well as "machinery blocking their view," etcetera.

There is also the trespass issue from the neighbors, who believe that my fields are some sort of "commons" area and think nothing of driving their vehicles through the growing crops, using the property for storage and disposal of their yard debris and pet waste, or to access the pond on the property for their children, resulting in serious vandalization of the irrigation system or other equipment.
Contrarywise, the Glenn and Gibson Watershed Council recommends preserving the parcel as farmland. They also note the contradictory traffic goals:
...the inherent conflict between granting a zone change designed to promote pedestrian use and minimize traffic (a concept which we support) and including in that SACP/WSNP/zone change application an amendment to the STSP that would promote greater traffic through the middle of the property and condition the application with the widening of Glen Creek Rd. NW. These two concepts appear contradictory and do not fit well together in the same application.
And two neighbors:
To develop. this property into a mini-mall, fast food, or convenience store, etc., would only serve to encourage the high school and middle school students to congregate or "hang out" at this location. I feel, being a resident of West Salem since 1971, that we are adequately served by the existing businesses on Wallace Road and Edgewater. It seems to me that this is not a good use of the property and would take the business away from already struggling merchants who have serviced our needs for years. Our loyalty lies with them.
I think that creating a space for people to congregate is exactly the point of such a development! Though the intent of the NCMU zoning is not, I think, for mini-malls, though with the schools here a convenience store would or fast food would seem quite possible.

This is a small corner of rural and rural behaving landowners. As an environmental educator, I would support the proposed development if I thought it was in the right location. But it is NOT. Choose a property closer to higher density housing. Give this experiment a chance of being successfully. The currently proposed site certainly will NOT encourage neighbors to walk or bike to its services.
As gas gets more expensive, these neighbors may become more interested in walkable neighborhoods. There may be a certain amount of NIMBYism in these objections.

But it is also seems true that, as it is currently proposed, this may not offer the best situation for a pilot mixed-use development. In particular as two of the comments suggest, traffic of all kinds, whether by car, on foot, or on bike does not appear to be sufficiently considered at this moment.

And especially as this would be the first instance of the NCMU zoning, it seems likely that there are other places in Salem where pilot project with that zoning might better be situated with greater prospects for success.

Federal Transportation Bill

Finally, Cheriots has asked for a letter in support of transit funding in the new Federal Transportation Reauthorization bill. Curiously, support for biking and walking programs is not included in the request. A friendly amendment also to include support for walking and biking might be in order!

The Cemetery

Not on the Council agenda, but relevant to past Council votes, the appeal on the cemetery vacation now has a date for oral argument before the Land Use Board of Appeals. On March 22 at 9am LUBA will hear the case. Who knows what'll happen, but as I read the matter (and here), the City's decision ran roughshod over the plain meaning of the vacation criteria. So a decision for the City would be especially dispiriting, as it would seem to make literal the notion that we really aren't speaking the same language.


Brandon Filbert said...

I can only offer the old Watergate-era suggestion: Follow the Money.

Curt said...

The testimony and council comments last night on the Minto Bridge and the Bone property were encouraging. I left the meeting feeling like at least the council is a friendly environment for issues of responsible land use, walkability, livability and transportation choice. The Planning Commission, of course, is an entirely different situation. I delivered my testimony regarding the legality of the PC and rampant potential conflicts of interest between the members of the PC, the political agenda of the trade organizations they belong to, and the policies they are shaping. Predictably... crickets.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Ha ha! Nobody pointed out my calendar're all very gracious.)

Follow the money - outside money, and City money - indeed. As far as the City goes, it always comes down to what decisions the Council funds. There's lots of good talk, but much less walk, and it's always tempting to be hopeful and beglamoured by the talk. (Here's a list of decisions where talk wasn't quite enough.)

Sorry to hear about the crickets. That issue will take some work, alas.

It was interesting to hear the President of the Chamber of Commerce (at about the 33:30 mark) speak for the Minto Bridge as enhancing tourism and benefiting ongoing downtown development (and redevelopment), particularly around Riverfront Park. If there are benefits to property owners arising from adjacent investments for biking and walking, presumably there are benefits to property owners elsewhere? It will be interesting to see if this reasoning is extended consistently at the Planning Commission on the 6th.