Though the Boise project and Carousel has got all the headlines, there's a surprising amount of interesting things on Council's agenda for Monday.
The Boise project, of course leads
|Aerial Rendering in recent online advertising|
, and much of the talk seems, at least from this angle, to be disproportionately focused on one issue - access and the proposed drive through the existing parking lot.
Unfortunately, because the permitting process for the apartments was administrative, and didn't require a hearing at the Planning Commission, the proposed driveway and the concurrent tax abatement application have become proxies for judgment and opinion on the whole design of this portion of the development. And so we get a bunch of spillover from the more narrow questions. This isn't surprising: The community deserves a chance to weigh in on the whole apartment configuration and design, and a process that doesn't give the community this opportunity is flawed. As important as this project is, public design charettes might well have been in order.
The Drive and Access
If we spent as much energy on School safety as we seem to be spending on talking about Carousel safety, boy-oh-boy, things would be better!
According to a traffic analysis (which for the moment we will take at face value), the proposed apartments would add in round numbers about 1000 trips per day, and an estimated 60 trips during peak pm traffic. Overall, that's less than one car per minute. If you haven't stood and counted traffic, maybe that seems like a lot. But it's not!
|Concern about Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry|
|4 Schools near Orchard Heights|
We site schools all the time on or near roads much busier! Think about Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry, and all the schools there.
At Straub Middle School, Orchard Heights has about 5,000 daily trips, at West Salem High and Chapman Elementary, just south of Orchard Heights, Doaks Ferry has about 4,500 trips. (City Traffic Counts can be seen here
The roads are wider, the speeds are faster, and both the kids and cars far more numerous.
Alarm about an increase in traffic at the Carousel is in many ways more about development style than traffic substance. And in fact, the actual letter from the Carousel says, "the Salem Riverfront Carousel Board of Directors opposes the proposed development of multi-family dwellings west of the railroad tracks and south of the Carousel." Their opposition isn't just about the driveway.
It is about the encroachment on park land, what that looks like, and how it impacts the park and Carousel, and not so much about actual road capacity and parking lot safety.
Indeed, style and site plan are the reasons to be concerned. The apartment's design is rather middling, not in harmony with the park, and not in a configuration of uses optimal (or even just "pretty good") for downtown or a vibrant mixed-use development.
|Proposed Design: View from carousel lot near playground equipment,|
looking mostly east/southeast
That's a real reason to be concerned about the development - but judged by the way we site and handle schools, narrow concerns about an increase in traffic at the Carousel may be something of a red herring.
Also interesting, and perhaps more important, are some other points. Allowing this access will require:
- Amending the Riverfront Park Master Plan, which currently does not permit a driveway for a private development
- Widening park pathways for Fire and Emergency response access from Union Street
- A Federal Land & Water Conservation Fund Act 6(f) conversion, the process for trading new land and incorporating it into the park for the loss of the privatized portion lost to the Boise development.
Basically, nothing would normally permit this sort of thing, and the usual staff recommendation would be to deny
it. Since the Boise Redevelopment is in fact special, staff have made a defensible punt, and made no recommendation, asking instead for Council to make policy on this:
A request for the permanent private use of a City of Salem park property is very rare.
While such a request would typically be presented to Council with a staff
recommendation for denial, this proposal is quite unique given its location and history.
Given that this proposal presents both opportunities for the community and possible
negative impacts to the City's premier events park, staff believes that the decision to
grant the access easements is ultimately a policy decision for Council. Thus, staff's
recommendation to Council is to "consider" the request for access, rather than the
standard recommendation to "accept" or "deny."
Others have criticized the punt
, saying staff and Council should hold out for a better design and therefore should recommend a denial of this request. But if staff really believe this is the best the developer can do, then the punt is understandable.
As for the tax abatement, it may or may not be good policy, but the proposed apartments appear to meet the City's Multi-Unit Housing Tax Incentive Program
, as it is written. Since the apartments are already in an urban renewal zone, this amounts to kind of double subtraction - there won't be a "tax increment" to go into the urban renewal district, either. But there may be no good reason to deny the application.
The report on the abatement application contains some useful information, however.
|The rents they are seeking still seem on the high side|
The proposed rents might give one pause. Is there really that big of a market for 2- and 3-bedroom apartments that rent for $1,100 to $1,570? Though they are on the park, these are also right by a railroad line, remember. (See note below on rents in the North Downtown Housing Investment Strategy.)
In the staff report there's also a budget, placing the current estimated project cost at $17,630,254.
For more on the development and its design:
- On the first proposal to close State Street at the Carousel, see here, here, here, here, and here.
- On the south block, the warehouse shell and condos, see here, here, here, and here.
- On the park block with the apartments, see here, here, here, and here.
- And in less detail, on the nursing home facility, see here, here, here, and here.
In the end, you might have the sinking feeling that this is the best Salem can do at the moment. But you also might think it would be worth continuing to work on the project design since what will be done essentially cannot be undone, and this is a special site we should take extra care to get right.
Other Stuff - Including Good News for Bikes
There's a proposal to incorporate additional, permanent bike parking
into the Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Plan!