Saturday, June 9, 2012

Proposed Apartments on 23rd, South of Mission, Tricky for Food and Transport

Recently the City announced a hearing for a site plan review, conditional use permit, and design review of a 96-unit apartment complex located just south of Mission and 23rd.

At first glance it's a little bit of a head-scratcher. The area is bounded by the railroad, McGilchrist, 25th, and Mission. The airport and industry dominate. City Public Works shops are nearby.

But there's a residential pocket to the south, small homes orphaned by other development around it. Unlike a lot of development on the edges of the city, even with the industry, this is, well, central-ish. It should be easy to get places.

Located in a Food Desert and Flood Plain

But it's not easy to get places, and the neighborhood may not be thriving, exactly. The USDA has identified the area as a "food desert," a "low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store." A large grocery at Hines and 18th and Mission closed several years ago, and the area is no longer served.   (Interestingly, the whole Fairview development is also included in this food desert - hopefully its commercial pod will have some grocery options in walking distance for residents.)

The plans attached to the hearing notice also identify it as being in a flood plain (at top). It seems like it should at least be an open question: Should we permit large scale development on flood plains? If so, should it differ in any ways from the usual?  The folks out by the Battle Creek golf course might have opinions! Presumably more detail will come out on this at or before the hearing.

Busy Roads form Moats

Traffic is also problematic.

The intersection of 23rd and Mission has no crosswalks and Mission has a median to enforce right-in, right-out access on 23rd.

To get anywhere meaningful a person would almost certainly have to bike on Mission - but even with bike lanes Mission is lousy for bicycling. And to go out west (or come in from the east) on Mission, some amount of sidewalk riding, bike salmoning, or several blocks of out-of-direction travel will be necessary.

If the development is approved, the City may just require some bike racks. Not even covered bike parking. But the fundamental access issues will remain: It's a lousy place for biking and walking.

The approval criteria (SRC 163.070b) ostensibly cover this.
The transportation system provides for the safe, orderly, and efficient circulation of traffic into and out of the proposed development, and negative impacts to the transportation system are mitigated adequately.
But this is consistently read to mean car traffic only. Looking at a map one might conclude the bike lanes on Mission provide excellent connectivity, but we know these attract riders only on the extremes, for the highly skilled or those who have no choice, and remain broadly functional mostly just in theory, as lines on a map. As low-quality facilities they don't offer an incentive not to drive.

Opportunity for Mixed Uses?

Finally, the site also might be a candidate for a mixed use kind of development, with ground floor retail, since 23rd (unlike Mission) won't be crazy busy. That could be a walkable mini-main street!  The development just to the north is conventional single-story strip mall, but broken up into small buildings. Why not stack the housing on top of the retail and business?

As it is, we have a feedback loop going in the wrong direction. Mission Street is totally auto-dependent, and so the neighboring development is also increasingly auto-dependent. Which in turn will put more pressure on Mission Street to pump out cars. We need to break this cycle.

It will be interesting to learn more about the project and about comments by neighbors and the neighborhood association. The hearing announcement is thin on details, and there should be a richer staff report later.

By itself the process may not be adequate.  The way we evaluate land use and developments is atomistic, focused on the rights of individual property owners, each considered largely in isolation. We haven't developed schemes to analyze interrelations and to account for externalized costs, so the balance between individual and community isn't always right. And too much we separate land use and transportation and fail adequately to create incentives and positive feedback loops for the good stuff we want more of.

Especially in less prosperous and transitional neighborhoods, where equity is particularly an issue, there ought to be a mechanism to develop multi-modal transportation alternatives in tandem with the buildings the street system serves. In the absence of this, maybe the neighborhood association can work with the developer to find common ground for improvements.

1 comment:

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

Makes about as much sense as senior housing out by the Kuebler freeway interchange.