Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Proposed Apartments for Boise Site Turn Backs on Park

It's great news that things are heating up again on the Boise redevelopment project.

Interestingly, the condos in the Boise shell itself are on the backburner, and apartments for what had been the third phase are now on the table. The location has significant challenges for different kinds of access as it is hemmed in by the railroad, park, and creek on each side. It's not likely an easy site to work with. But...there's always buts.

View of backside from park - a bit of a three-story wall
It is also interesting that Hill Architects is at least the third architect on the project.  They offer "specialized expertise in the master planning and design of destination resorts, hotels, senior living communities..."  Unfortunately, those are the kinds of projects this feels like - much more so than part of the most important urban redevelopment in Salem's downtown core. 

More particularly, the design, called The Residences at Riverfront Park, actually turns its back on the Park and creates something of a gated community instead of a procession of interesting urban spaces from public, to private-public, to private. On the edges and at transitions, it doesn't collaborate very well with the park.  But because of its location and the incentives offered by the City for developing it, it is reasonable to ask that it collaborate and be a better partner. 

Unfortunately the approvals process does not call for a public hearing, and it may not be possible to alter the design on this phase.  Hopefully this will not set the stage for design on what was phase I, the Boise shell proper.

Site Plan Overview:  No new RR crossing!
One important piece of good news is that the site no longer depends on a new road and at-grade crossing of the railroad.  A few years back one was proposed, and this required closing the State Street entry to the carousel and park.  That was a colossally bad idea, and it has gone away.  Thank you!

Entry and view from Carousel Parking Lot and Access Drive
Access is now by State Street, and instead of access through the parking lot, which had concerned people with regard to conflict with children running through the lot, the parking lot is reconfigured with a separate driveway.  So you get separation - but you also now get a straighter shot to the housing, and speeds will be somewhat higher.  On balance the separation will probably be better, but in removing the calming from parking cars and walking people, there will be higher speeds.
With the site plan for context you can see the fencing in brown, ringing the compound, in the photo of the model.  The acid ball is in the foreground and the shot looks mostly north from the south, with a slight bias to the east.

Three-story apartment buildings ring lot and clubhouse
The central parking lot approximates a square, and a one-story clubhouse is set in the center.  On the side by the railroad tracks there are garages.  The "fronts" and entries ring the parking lot and are all clearly oriented to it.

A chainlink fence will surround the compound.  And path connections will be locked and gated apparently.

Buildings back onto Park with fencing and gates
The path along the creek on the south will also back into a concrete retaining wall. Rather than interesting architecture on one side and the creek on the other - a balance of the natural and the man-made - there may be drab and sterile and grey backing the view along the creek.

Fortunately there is a space fronting the Carousel parking lot designated commercial.  One can only hope for a cafe and sidewalk seating by the playground!  Or something like that, anyway.  That certainly looks like what the architect envisions in the elevation showing the entry drive.   Maybe a wider sidewalk and a couple fewer parking stalls???  (The site plan may show a wider sidewalk.)

View from Carousel Lot (slightly to west and rotated from third image
The commercial space and entry is on left)
The style is faux-historical, maybe with a nod to streetcar development.  It's pleasant enough.  The commercial space has a band of brick delineating the first floor.  In the residential zones the band shifts from brick to darker siding.   There's a cornice on the top.  The buildings are lower and wider, but by design or by accident they remind me of the Pioneer Trust Bank building a little.  They're working, at any rate, with a modernized vocabulary rooted in these streetcar era low- and mid-rise commercial buildings. 

Pioneer Trust Bank, circa 1910
At the same time, in an even more stripped down and chunky form, this vocabulary has been used to decorate the surfaces of malls like Keizer Station.

Cornices, indentations, and bands of brick at Keizer Station
Because the plan conformed to the standards in the Design Handbook for the South Waterfront Mixed-Use zone, it passed through administrative reviews and does not require any sort of public hearing before the Planning Commission or a Hearings Officer.

On the one hand, it's great for the City to set up a process like this to speed important developments into construction.  This is a gravel lot right now.  No one should want it to remain a gravel lot.

On the other hand, given the quasi-public nature of the site and the incentives offered by the City and Urban Renewal Agency, it seems reasonable to make sure public interests are satisfied.   The City is putting a beautiful foot bridge right beside it!  That's a huge publicly-funded amenity, not to mention the Park itself.  This development could be much more stylish, urbane, and civic-minded.

In particular, I'm sure there are ways the transitions between the park and private space could have been managed to create a more inviting and dynamic set of edge conditions, conditions for strolling and even for commerce. The massing and fencing just creates too much of a compound or mall enclosed and separated from Park and City.

In general, the style and site plan feels like something that belongs more in the suburbs than right downtown.  It's not terrible, but it could be better.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Fixed embedded tweet code, which wasn't displaying the picture properly.

Brian Hines said...

Excellent post. I agree with your viewpoint. Quoted you and added on some thoughts of my own in a blog post:


Keep up your "shadowy cabal" good work. Hope you take over the world, or at least Salem, soon. When you do...

Make sure you redo the ill-named "multi use path" (concrete version) at Riverfront Park. In my senior citizen senility I've taken up land paddling on a longboard skateboard (push it with a stick, rather than my foot).

The rather wide "joints" on the concrete path are hugely irritating on a skateboard or longboard. Also, rather dangerous. I've hit a few upraised joints that almost caused a spill. A roller blader gave me some advice: watch out for the joints (or cracks).

Whoever came up with that idea should be forced by the cabal to ride a skateboard around and around on the concrete path until their teeth chatter together and fall out.

Seriously... I've seen little old ladies with a walker trying to navigate the path also. Smooth asphalt is just a far better multi-use path than concrete with wide uneven gaps between the sections.

The cobblestones or whatever they're called on the outside of the path aren't much better. They just cause continuous chattering rather than episodic clunks to my longboard.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the comments here and at hinessight!

You might be interested in this PSU survey on skate-transportation.

Mr.Thomas said...

I was just out at the park near the Carousel on Friday night and I was reminded of your article while near the parking lot. What caught my attention immediately is that there is no room for an extra road between the tracks and the parking lot. So, I went back to your article and compared the image to a Google Maps view to resolve the mental discrepancy. It seems the developers have resolved their lack of space issue by simply removing all the trees, vegetation and the center sidewalk(which is great when loading/unloading a family) in the Carousel parking lot and compressed the already tight maneuvering space even smaller. Wow developers, thanks for 'sticking it' to everyone else.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I am hopeful that the proposed reconfiguration of the parking lot as well as the extension of State Street would need to go through a public process and not merely through staff administrative approvals.

Access is a pickle, though, because of the railroad, and I'm not sure there's an unambiguously good solution. It would be sad to lose the trees and central walkway, as you suggest.

Hopefully more detail will come out and we can get a better sense for how it will work.

Danial Smith said...

I truly appreciate the content of your blog.. Keep going.

Frances said...

I hope this would encourage Boise Apts developers to plan complexes well while not sacrificing pieces of greenery