Thursday, March 6, 2014

Prospect for Howard Hall Demolition, Movement on the Blind School?

On January 15th the Hospital submitted an application, not yet approved, to remove the historic designation for Howard Hall at the Blind School.

Gone?  Howard Hall at Church and Mission
as well as some 80 trees may be gone soon
The move is obviously a prelude to a demolition permit.

Some details on the proposed historic designation withdrawal
So there were multiple reasons, then, for the Hospital to attend last month's SCAN meeting and to talk about plans at the Blind School.

The draft minutes from the meeting are out, and they're worth quoting in full (though cited here in chunks somewhat reordered).  Interestingly, it seems possible that Howard Hall was incorrectly or inappropriately designated as an historic building.
Howard Hall (cannot be used by Salem Hospital)
  • Howard Hall as a historic property. Kimberly Fitzgerald research indicated that letters written in 1989 and 1990 (State Department of Education) indicated Howard Hall might not be a historic building, but it was designated as such. Not clear if designation (a) follows building ownership (now the hospital) or (b) does the historic designation follow the property. This is an issue to be resolved with regard to ultimate disposition of Howard Hall.
  • Requests For Proposals (RFP) for adaptive re-use resulted in no proposals offered
  • Question: Has consideration been given to using older portion of Howard Hall incorporated into rehabilitation area? No, given existing condition of the building.
  • Question: Has consideration been given to keeping the fa├žade of Howard Hall along Mission Street?
  • Question: Could Howard Hall be renovated to be a Hospitality House? No. Not structured for family occupancy.
  • Plans exist for outdoor space to (1) commemorate School for Blind, (2) provide for outdoor therapy space and (3) provide an adaptive playground for those undergoing physical therapy. Will incorporate curbs, sand, grass, uneven pavement, etc.
  • Adaptive playground will be open to all children; it won’t be fenced in

A previous iteration from last summer:  All about parking.
It's not clear how much the latest plan conforms to this one.
 (Howard Hall in lower left)
In the overall plan, parking remains central:
Hospital almost complete with plans development; will deliver to city of Salem for approval shortly

Overall Hospital Site Plan (discussion of highlights):
  • Auto access via Winter Street and Mission Street (none on Church St.)
  • On site “hospitality house” is temporary housing for families who have relatives under care at the hospital
  • Raised “berm” along Church Street side of property (West side). Berm “jogs” to avoid existing trees. Provides green space along Church Street.
  • Church Street enlarged sidewalk (approximately 8’ wide) will be a straight path. There had been discussions about a curved path but determination made to have this path (for walkers/joggers/bicyclists) straight for safety reasons.
  • Stormwater will be treated with bioswale on the property site and won’t run off site.
  • Fitness stations will be grouped together near outpatient parking area on West side rather than distributed around hospital property
  • Parking areas will be screened by berm (which is approx. 3’ tall with evergreen hedge on top)
  • there will be 272 parking stalls on the property
Tree/lighting plan
  • SCAN meeting attendees were shown drawings of various hospital plans. On one of the display boards, existing trees are identified as those that will stay and those that will be removed. Some trees have been specifically designated by the city of Salem as significant for retention on the hospital property.
  • Lighting: Some lights have a special lens/shield to control lighting pattern (away from residences on Church St.
  • 80 trees will be removed (34 are dying now)
  • Main Building (two stories)
  • Brick and glass about 35’ tall
  • Hospitality House
  • Acknowledge that this building will be in a historic neighborhood
Outpatient Rehab
  • A place for physical rehabilitation to enable people to return to work or the sport they enjoyed prior to their injury
  • Original goals (from 4 years ago) were: (a) no Church Street driveways (b) given historic nature of Gaiety Hill, desire to see a “sloping” of the property with low-rise property on West side (c) greenway path from Bush Park (d) Pringle Creek watershed (e) preserve trees (f) historic preservation.
  • Question: Can there be a bicycle access from hospital property to Church St.? Yes
  • Question: Trees along Church Street (East Side of Sidewalk): It was requested that display boards indicate those that will remain.
  • New Trees will be planted on the property. Property will be more heavily treed in the future as compared to now. Existing trees designated for removal are too big to be donated to other entities.
  • On Mission Street: Area is currently being used for equipment parking
  • Honoring the School for the Blind: Use some of the materials that came from the site. This is being discussed (to reuse historic School of the Blind materials)
  • Question: Crosswalks on Mission Street: Can a pedestrian light be put in the crosswalk that goes to Mission?
Without seeing more of the plans and description of them, it's difficult to say much more. But it is certainly disappointing to see the idea of demolishing Howard Hall embraced so quickly - the Hospital is a non-profit, even; the haste seems a little profit-minded and unseemly - and to see parking remain the dominant land use.

SCI concept for
Mission & Winter
Additionally, since surface parking is such a low-value use for the land, in addition to considering a flashing beacon at the crosswalk on Church, maybe additional improvements there can be made for people on bikes as well as reconfiguring the intersection of Mission and Winter. It seems like the Hospital ought to embrace more community stewardship on this.

(For more on the Blind School project, see notes here.)


Jeff Schumacher said...

For what it is worth, I thought the hospital did a fair job of going through the various options for Howard Hall at the last SCAN meeting. Every option discussed was either not feasible because of the design of Howard Hall or too cost prohibitive. I'm all for renovating older buildings, but I think any renovation has to consider the cost. The hospital clearly thinks it costs too much, and that any version of a renovated Howard Hall would not serve their needs nearly as well.

Should the hospital be expected to do more? As was pointed out in the SCAN meeting, the hospital met five of the six goals that SCAN presented. That sounds like a very reasonable attempt by the hospital to work with the surrounding neighborhood.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

As you point out, the neighborhood goals are an important part of the conversation and context, and perhaps they should have been highlighted more in the post.

But without having gone into a full critique of the neighborhood's goals, I'm not sure that the city as a whole is best served by them, and that even the wider neighborhood, as opposed to the smaller enclave on gaiety hill proper, may not benefit fully from those goals.

The perspective here is that a large surface parking lot is more harmful to the neighborhood and to the city than a denser streetcar scaled and walkable configuration of two-, three-, and four-story buildings oriented to the sidewalk. This goes against the grain of our current mania for parking, of course, but I believe that the mania for parking has created an extraordinary set of blind spots for us right now.

The neighborhood's real wishes seemed to have been for an ornamental emptiness. What they really seemed to want was no development and for the land to become an annex of Bush Park. (A longer discussion is here.)

The compromise was for the triangle - for a low-rise, low-density, quasi-park configuration along Church Street, rising to mid-rise and more dense office buildings on Winter Street.

The whole parcel might have been a streetcar-scaled mixed use development with medical offices, residences, and retail/commercial. A meaningful source of downtown residences to go with the Boise project. In this configuration, Church Street still could have been oriented primarily to walking and biking and deemphasized cars.

The neighborhood may think it wants "quiet," but the outcome with a large expanse of surface parking will instead be a form of deadness. The problems with this stance may not be so visible now, but in a quarter-century, it will be regarded as a significant mistake and missed opportunity.

(To be sure, this is a systemic problem: Over at the State Hospital North Campus, NESCA is making a nearly identical argument, using a similar triangle from D Street to Center, and our exclusionary zoning "protects" residential neighborhoods from "encroachment" by business or multi-family housing. But the deep allegiance to this sort-and-separate strategy means an equally deep pattern of car-dependent development, since very few will walk to things kept away at more-than-arms length.)

Jeff Schumacher said...

I completely agree that SCAN takes a very narrow position, as I suppose it naturally should. SCAN is just another dreaded "special interest group" that happens to represent a particular neighborhood. Like you say, though, a large surface parking area is the problem.

I agree that is the problem, but I am not casting blame on the hospital. The hospital is just playing the game according to the rules - or lack of rules - that the City of Salem has in place. As soon as the hospital buys the land, they have basically won the game. Meanwhile, everyone else is warming up for a game that has essentially just been completed.

Hopefully the work that SCAN and other neighborhood associations do will help push the City to adopt more comprehensive standards so that community-oriented goals get achieved (more mixed use, more pedestrian friendly, more medium density residential, or something else). I've only lived in Salem for about 10 years, but it is readily apparent the City has suffered from a lack of vision on its goals for growth. One need look no further than the messes that are Lancaster Drive and South Commercial, or the undisciplined approach to a third bridge across the Willamette. The pending redevelopment of the School for the Blind is just further evidence demonstrating that the City is content in allowing anyone to do just about anything with any piece of property.