Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tyranny of Parking Pringle Square's Doom? Video Posted, Council Likely to Delay to 23rd

Whether it's the petition for preserving free parking downtown or the effort to preserve parking at the Carousel, Salem's mania for car parking blinds us to deeper problems and forces retrograde planning on the community.

Old City Hall with Parking Meters on Chemeketa, 1959
Salem Library Historic Photos
We don't have good historical data on on-street parking,
 surface lots, and downtown prosperity.
It would be too much to say the disappearance of meters
is directly linked to the persistence of a surface lot here,
but it's an interesting coincidence.
Criticism of the Boise Redevelopment from almost every angle has started with 20th century assumptions about mobility and put the car, its movement and its storage, at the center of analysis.

This is all backwards!  Criticism should start with a look to the future in the 21st century, and put the foundational experience of walking at the center.  (We have to look back to look forward!) Even walking to the car is a nearly universal experience - every trip starts and ends with a walk.

The Carousel should be asking - what can we do to give people choices?  To make it easier to choose not to drive?  To make it easy for people to walk, bike, or take transit to the Carousel and to the Park?  Or to park downtown and walk to the Carousel?  How can we more efficiently use existing parking and serve a greater number of people?  And for those who do need to drive from far away or with someone disabled, or with a large family - how can the experience of walking after you get out of the car be better?

Skinny streets actually calm traffic!
But people walking seems to be beside the point...

Instead, they are asking, what can we do to ensure there is plenty of parking?  They may say "adequate" parking, but in so many ways this means a "surplus."  It's not that the development doesn't need parking, but we aren't thinking about total mobility, which includes non-auto mobility, and right-sizing parking. 

Just off the playground, the wall of buildings looms over the park.
These edges should be the center of analysis and critique!
(still from Pringle Square Salem video)

At Council, Delay; with Prospects for More Delay

All kinds of interesting developments with the Boise Project.  Current staff recommendation for Monday's City Council is to continue the hearing and to continue to accept written testimony to September 23rd. (The staff report is long and contains many emails and even some hand-written letters.)

Meanwhile, in an online article posted Friday, and in print Saturday, the Statesman confirms the complexity of a 6(f) conversion and adds evidence to Brian Hines' claim that it would be as fast or faster for the City and developer to apply for a new at-grade crossing - though there remains much uncertainty about how readily a new one would actually be approved. Talk about the ease of a new at-grade crossing remains all too theoretical at the moment.

So these likely elements of delay may converge and contribute to the abandonment of the Park Parcel apartment proposal, an outcome that seems to be desired by many.

And indeed, it may be that the highest and best use of that parcel might be as park land, as an addition to Riverfront park.

Still, better design can solve a lot of problems, and the Apartments-or-Park antithesis is far too crude and may make us miss a design solution of compromise and win-win-win.

At the same time, abandoning the west side development and rushing Pringle Square Salem to redevelop the east side of the tracks may well saddle Salem with an inferior development, one that a more leisurely process could have remedied and improved.

It all comes down to parking, you see - the curse, of parking.

Questions Remain at the South Block - Haste will not Fix Them!

The video presented by the developers at Council (or a revised version of it) has been posted to the developer's own Pringle Square Salem site and it is very interesting!

But it is not certain how accurate it really is - or to say how "representative" or "conceptual" it is.  And it may not be fair to require that it show every detail in absolute fidelity to the latest plans.  On the other hand, if you wondered about some details, few would probably think it out-of-hand.

Most of the street level is actually a parking garage
See those people walking on the left?  They're looking not at storefronts,
but at concrete, at the dusty guts of a parking garage.
(Think about walking the perimeter of the Marion Parkade)
In the video, detailing on the warehouse shell on the south side of Pringle Creek appears to conform to previous plans.

The streel-level on the Boise shell (right side) is still a blank wall
The street-level is mostly a parking garage or blank wall.  People walking along Commercial will contend with dust and exhaust rather than cafes, storefront windows, and public art.  East-west walkway access from Commercial is slight - or perhaps non-existent.

The whole at street-level is not interesting, detailed, or inviting.  It's a little bunker-like.

In fact, it's a dismal first floor!   In no small part caused by our mania for free parking and commitment to the Moses-Eisenhower School of Mid-Century Autoism.

Here it is from the other side - all the detailing is on the residences
and it's not clear there's even a walkway from Commercial Street
(For more on the south block, the warehouse shell and condos, see here, here, here, and here.)

Park Parcel Problems aren't Just About Car Access

Back to the Park Parcel, again, the biggest problem with the Carousel group and their critique is that it's all about car parking and cars queuing up for the traffic light. It's that same School of Autoism!

A critique of the development should start with the experience of walking and then scale up.  Movement by foot should be the primary analytical framework!

So here we go with more video stills. 

In the video, the fence between the park and building is gone
 But not much setback from the park!
Here's that footpath in the Park along the west side of the proposed apartments.

The plans had shown a fence between the park and apartment buildings, and it was on this basis that I and others had found it a "gated enclave."  Here in the video the fence is gone! Reality or appearance?

The buildings also loom over the pathway.  In a more public process, we might be able to debate something like a couple of narrow towers, with more ground floor commercial space, pulling the buildings back from the park, and using lower buildings and gaps (for sightlines!) to step up to the narrow mid-rise towers.  Some height here would allow for a smaller footprint at the ground and allow the buildings and Park edges to breathe more.

Who knows if that would fly in Salem, though.  But at least we could talk about stuff like that.

But here's one of the gates
Back to the fencing, the gates remain in between buildings.  In this rendering I guess the sun is mostly overhead, but in the mornings, this mostly unbroken wall of buildings right up on the park's boundaries will cast long shadows into the park.

Near the acid ball there's a courtyard that appears to be open to park
(that's some foreshortening with the acid ball, though!)
The courtyard appears open, without a fence...

But here's the fence along the path by Pringle Creek (left)
But here's the fence along the creek!  So is it continuous around the perimeter or not?

They do show parking on the slough parcel - and even though this is in apparently the 100-year flood plain, parking is an excellent use for land in the flood plain!

In fact, CB|Two who is also handing the Blind School parcel, shows parking at the proposed Blind School redevelopment in the 100 year flood plain.

In conversation around the Minto bridge, the City has been insistent that flooding will hardly impact bridge use.  This is probably an area that deserves more study.  I believe the City understates the impact of temporary high water on the Bridge and Minto Park.  On the other hand, some occasional times when the Slough Parcel is not usable doesn't totally disqualify it for access to the Park Parcel.  There's too much all-or-nothing thinking going on here!

(The City has tons of parking garage capacity - couldn't, for example, an arrangement be worked out to relocate car parking to a garage during a flood?

 For more on the park block with the apartments, see here, here, here, and here.)

Nursing Home a Union Issue?

As a footnote, it is interesting to see that SEIU local 503 has sent out emails requesting action.  This one was shared by a reader:
Corporate interests are trying to push through a boondoggle in Salem. The Pringle Square development is proposing to build residential apartment units and a nursing home facility, operated by the anti-worker Marquis Companies, at the former Boise Cascade mill site in downtown Salem. Last week the City Council approved a 10-year tax abatement for the development, keeping funds out of our classrooms.

The poorly planned project will face another important vote next week. Will you let your City Councilor know that you value the needs of the community over tax breaks for corporate interests?...

Over 10,000 SEIU members live and work in Salem, this is our community and what happens here affects our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our families. We are standing against this new development plan because it provides tax breaks to wealthy corporate interests that directly decreases funds for schools and public services, all the while providing primarily low-wage non-union jobs and housing vulnerable community members on unhealthy industrial grounds.

Next Monday, the City Council will discuss the company's request to turn a public park road into a private access road. The current proposal cuts through a beloved children's area and carousel park, and complicates emergency transportation in the area....

The Pringle Square development is bad planning, anti-worker, and takes tax revenue away from our schools and public services.
(For more on the nursing home facility, though not on labor issues, see here, here, here, and here.)
At this point criticism has mostly settled into repeating the same points.  We're all just talking past each other.  It will be interesting to see if more creative design solutions emerge and are able to cut through the entrenched positions.

By focusing too narrowly on parking, we just push the pieces around on the site plan, and don't fundamentally work to improve the whole project.  It may be that people feel that talking about parking and car access is the only leverage for improving the project remaining at this point - and that would be a failure in our City processes.  Even so, insufficient attention is being given to ways this is project in total is too far from being a good one.

For all notes tagged Boise Redevelopment, see here.  


Curt said...

That street profile is another example of NIMBY fear mongering. AASHTO guidelines on lane width are 9-12 ft for local streets. Leffelle St. along Bush park (where I live) measures 15ft. 3 inches. Like arguing about parking, its an futile exercise in Orwellian doublethink--20 ft. is too narrow but if they widened it, it would be too fast. There is never enough parking, until you mention meters, then there is plenty of parking.

Meanwhile in the Lloyd District they are building 657 apartments with (gasp!) one parking space per every 2 units.

I actually think the walk in the video from the playground to the acid ball looks very nice. I think the buildings frame the space better than if it were just more grass. I just don't see a need to extend the park.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

thanks for the aashto guidelines!

also...was going to get up a separate note on the rest of Council's agenda, but that's not going to happen.

Some highlights, then -

adoption of the North Broadway Parking Study recommendations

and another temporary lease for an arts group in the ground floor of the Liberty Parkade

The North Broadway Parking Study might merit a follow-up note...we'll see.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Holy Smokes! Doom indeed!

Late this evening to get to this, but earlier today the SJ reported the developers have pulled the plug:

'Plans to redevelop the former Boise Cascade site have come to an abrupt halt, casting doubt on the city’s aspirations for the downtown property.

The site’s owner, Mountain West Investment Corp., told city officials today that it was no longer pursuing plans to build a 118-unit apartment complex on the former Boise Cascade property.

Brian Moore, director of real estate development for Mountain West Investment, said in a prepared statement “that it has become clear that the outcomes necessary for the delivery of the Residences at Riverfront Park are distant and uncertain.”

Not sure it's the whole development, however. Maybe just the apartments. The piece doesn't discuss the Boise Shell or Marquis nursing home pieces on the east side of the rail line.

More to come surely.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Also missed this at Council last night:

5:30 p.m. – Library Anderson Rooms
State Capitol Mall Master Plan

That included a transportation piece that could dovetail with the Parking Task Force, the Downtown Mobility Study, and the Third Bridge nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Here's a note circulating from the carousel faction:

"WE WON!...YIPPEE!!!! That's all we know right now....

Thanks to all of you for your time, effort, and energy. How exciting to know that a small group of people with a united message can still make a difference.

Congratulations to all of us!

Now on to the next order of business . . . [we] would like to ask each of you to send a note to the mayor and our city councilors thanking them for standing up for what is best for Salem's citizens... we [should] keep our momentum going and work together to find a way to purchase the property west of the railroad tracks to expand the park. Keep checking website and Facebook page for updates.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

It suggests they wanted to kill the apartment project and were not very interested after all in a better design and access.

Laurie Dougherty said...

Yes, it does sound like they wanted to kill the apartments.

I keep wondering why no one is talking about environmental remediation. The application for the tax abatement (thanks for the link BoB) says that site clean-up is the developer's responsibility. If the city buys the parcel, then the city will have to clean it up. If they want to extend the park it will have to be cleaned up to a pretty high standard. This was a paper mill. Pretty toxic? Pretty expensive to fix?

I tried to look into this and all I could find was the status of the Boise Cascade property that the city bought on Minto. After several rounds with the DEQ, Boise left the Minto site fit for industrial use (only). The city bought it in that condition and can only allow public access on limited pathways - the whole thing is not fit for park use.

It seems to me that the site remediation alone might have been worth the tax abatement, but I can't find any good information on what toxins are there, clean-up cost estimates, etc.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Good question, Laurie!

Here's something from the DEQ that might provide a starting point.

It's hard to know where the line between fear-mongering and reasonable doubt is, but it's almost certain that the nature and scope of the contaminants should be discussed more in all of the sites: Riverfront Park, the Boise parcels, and Minto Park.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...


If you hadn't seen it, the City has a timeline with two aerial photos, one from 1974 that's all industrial, the other from 2005 after the park was developed.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Oregonian has a piece about a developer who went back to the drawing board and got a big win:

"Remmers, a Beaverton-based developer, had spent a year working on plans for a five-story apartment complex on North Overlook Boulevard. But neighbors hated his proposal....

The Overlook [neighborhood] group, however, had different plans. Instead, they had a wish list of ways Remmers could improve the project.

To their surprise, he responded by firing the project's architect and heading, list in hand, to [a new architect]....

On Wednesday, [the new designer] offered the neighbors an early look at a redesign of the complex. For the first time in a year, the residents sat back and sighed. This is good work, they said.

The new proposal includes bigger apartments, better building materials and some below-grade parking. It's designed as a transit-oriented complex, and landscaping will soften its impact on the neighborhood.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It came back. The City is purchasing the park parcel for $2M, the developer is moving ahead with apartments on the south block, a boardwalk for the pringle creek path, and the nursing home and office building planned for the north block.

The Carousel contingent was full of praise for the deal, not surprisingly. No one came to Council in opposition, and Council votes were fairly quick and unanimous.

One of the steps will involve getting a waiver from the DEQ - or something like that. It will be worth paying more attention to the details on contamination and remediation.

Most immediately, the park parcel will be used for a couple of years for Minto bridge construction staging. Using this parcel will save an estimated $700K by not trashing an improved portion of the park for construction staging. So that part of the deal is unambiguously good.