Monday, June 9, 2014

In the neighborhoods - Howard Hall and the Third Bridge Study

"Wildlife" at Mirror Pond!
Tonight at Council doesn't bring much of significance (maybe more on food than anything else!), so here's a few bullet points and links to staff reports.
(Maybe it was too sunny this weekend, too...)

This week's neighborhood meeting are more interesting for our purposes.

Morningside - Wednesday

On the agenda:
Madrona at 25th Intersection Improvements and Kuebler at Commercial Intersection – Gary Myzak Program Manager, Aaron Edelman, Project Manager and Steve Ward of Westech Engineering;
Project Scope on 25th and Madrona
Morningside meets Wednesday the 11th at 6:30 p.m. in the Pringle Creek Community Painters Hall, 3911 Village Center Drive SE.

SCAN - Wednesday

OSU Library, 1919 - John Bennes
The arch/dormer detail at the entry and side looks familiar?
OSU has a nice flickr stream of Bennes buildings
On the agenda:
[7] Oregon Architectural Legacy of John V. Bennes - Larry Landis, Director, Special Collections & Archives, Oregon State University Libraries; [8] Lord & Schryver/Gaiety Hollow Update;
Holy Smokes! The document truck backed up and dumped a few more loads of documents at the City site on Howard Hall. I don't envy the volunteer Commissioners, who presumably will need to read every one and come to a nuanced legal opinion. And there's going to be more! - a couple of response and rebuttal rounds, it looks like.

Certainly from here it seems that the crowd-sourced critique of the plan is overwhelming:  Lots of smart and informed people have raised numerous questions about the extent to which the Hospital has met the four demolition criteria.  There don't seem to be any letters of support other than largely sentimental appeals by parents and grandparents for the accessible playground - but of course their desires, entirely legitimate, can be met without demolishing Howard Hall. They prove there's a demand for an accessible playground, that's all. The other half of the case, that it requires or is worth demolition, looks much shakier.

In fact, some interested parties say the value of Howard Hall is great. The original letter from the American Council for the Blind (contained in the supplemental staff report) says, "I am writing to urge you to preserve historic Howard Hall...Don't be part of the total devastation and destruction of a rich history and legacy for the blindness community of Oregon..." Presumably, as with all reified "communities," there is no monolithic "Blind Community." So this is evidence that the Hospital cannot appeal to broad support among "the disabled community."  People with disabilities are many, various, and unlikely to be unanimous on this.

The neighborhood letter from SCAN is also interesting, and contains important claims about ways the Hospital's proposal (and the staff report that endorses it) fails to meet each of the four relevant criteria. It seems that the Hospital purchased the site at a discount and pretty much for the land only, assigning no independent value to Howard Hall.  Since Howard Hall was valued so low in the sale, it's not reasonable mid-analysis then to switch to a high valuation and talk about how difficult it would be to generate a "reasonable economic return" on the building. The analysis of economic return must also use the low valuation, and by those standards, the Hospital's not anywhere close to showing hardship.

Finally, because a relocated and rebuilt Walton House, the "hospitality house" which provides housing for families with ill children, and which commemorates her family's benefactions, is part of the development, Elizabeth Walton Potter in her capacity as our preeminent historic preservationist is not exactly a disinterested party, but her comments are very interesting.  She deprecates the architectural value of Howard Hall, saying "it is not close to being the exemplar of revivalism that are Bennes's corresponding Mediterranean/Italian Renaissance Revival Women's Building (1926) and Men's Dormitory (Weatherford Hall, 1928) at Oregon State University..." She seems to be alone in this, however, and most of the other historic assessments ascribe to Howard Hall a higher value in Bennes' oeuvre, especially as it is unique in Salem.

And in fact that's what looks like it will be discussed by Larry Landis in his talk.

It would be tedious to try to summarize the arguments and write an independent assessment of them.  The City has issued its own staff summary of all the testimony. It dismisses a good bit, curiously, and finds that "the testimony of [many] parties has limited relevance to any applicable criteria or evaluation of how the applicant's proposal meets the criteria."

Additionally, the City staff attorney has issued an opinion on interpretation of the demolition criteria, and it's pretty narrow, and much of it contrary to SCAN's position. Though it's interesting that a part of it says "the cost of improvements to make Howard Hall capable of generating a fair profit are so great that these costs could not be recouped through the sale or lease of Howard hall, and thus demolition is economically necessary."  It's hard to see "necessity" here. But also, time.  What's the time frame?  That's what these preservation ordinances miss. The values in historic preservation always stretch out on a longer horizon than the insistent NOW of demolition. Give it five or ten years, and it will be obvious that the brute economic value of an intact Howard Hall is greater than a parking lot or playground. In any event, the opinion seems mostly favorable to the Hospital.

We all will just see what the HLC decides! But if earlier it seemed likely the Hospital had met the demolition criteria, now I'm not so sure, and I think there's a chance the HLC could decide the criteria have not been met. All the testimony and analysis seem like they provide good grounds for denying the Hospital, notwithstanding the City's apparent sympathy for demolition.

The South Central Association of Neighbors meets Wednesday, the 11th at 6:30 p.m. in Pringle Hall, 606 Church St SE.

Highland - Thursday

TGM concept
On the agenda:
[5] Bridge District Study Grant Application—Julie Warncke, City of Salem;
For details and criticism, see here.

The Highland Neighborhood Association meets Thursday the 12th at 7:00 p.m.  They meet at Highland Elementary School, 530 Highland Ave NE.

(N3B is also holding a rally on Wednesday the 11th. There will be more to say in a separate note, but mark your calendars!)

SESNA - Thursday

On Thursday, SESNA will also hear the update on 25th and Madrona.

WU owns land along 14th and the Geer Line
(notes added) from WU 2009 campus master plan
But more interesting is a note in last month's minutes. "Willamette would like an urban renewal zone at 14th St. from overpass to state street."

There are lots of boarding houses along 14th here, and Willamette owns a good bit of property - probably including some of the housing - but it's not clear that large-scale demolition and redevelopment would be better than finer-grained and gradual redevelopment.  Something to watch.

SESNA meets Thursday the 12th at 7:00 p.m. in the Capital Park Wesleyan Church, 410 19th St SE ALDRICH PARK, 1550 MILL STREET NE.


Jeff Schumacher said...

Regarding Howard Hall, it will be interesting to hear the presentations at SCAN about the architect that designed it. I'm also interested in hearing what else might be done with the building, and who is going to pay for it. People seem to have ideas for other uses, but without a funding source I can envision that building sitting empty for a long time.

In terms of the value assigned the building by the hospital, it seems logical that its low value (or zero value?) takes into account the estimated costs to rehab the building. Just because it has zero market value doesn't mean you get to start from zero when you do an economic analysis. I'm not generally a fan of the hospital's large plan for that entire site, but the surface parking lots are more offensive to me than flattening Howard Hall.

Curt said...

Wonder how many hospital employees signed the downtown free parking petition? Salem Health must have felt empowered and emboldened by last summer's parking rights movement.

The SCAN land use committee submitted testimony opposing the site plan because the excessive amounts of parking proposed violate the parking maximums in the UDC. It appears from the documents the hospital submitted that they have been working with Community Development Director Glenn Gross. I have a hard time believing that they would submit this plan if they were not under the impression that their tortured rationale for exceeding the parking limits.

Too relevant too ignore:

The 13000 square feet of illegal parking is more that double the 4800 square foot print of Howard Hall. The approximately $500k of new debt the hospital is taking on the finance that parking would go a long way to reaching their funding goals for the playground.

Regarding Kimberli Fitzgerald's rebuttal. She seems to embrace one standard for disabled/blind community and applies different standard for the preservationist community. She dismisses the preservationists testimony as not relevant because it has all taken place outside the footprint of Howard Hall but embraces the testimony of the disabled community which also has taken place outside the footprint of Howard Hall.

The disabled community is right that the scarcity of welcoming facilities does elevate value of the the playground to the community. The ADA work the city has been working on is because the activists threatened to sue the city if they didn't take action to comply with federal law. Public works had to be publicly shamed into addressing the accessibility issues around the Social Security office on McGilchrist. I could go on but I will stop there.

The city's record on preservation has been just as bad. The fact that a once thriving downtown ecosystem has been eviscerated with surface parking lots is evidence of that legacy, increases the value of Howard Hall to the community and should be equally relevant.

Once again I am impressed with the skill, talent, and determination on the part of Salem Hospital and city staff for the PR campaign they have put together and the intellectual creativity they use to navigate these proposals around the UDC, the policies in the Comp. Plan, Oregon Land Use laws, etc...

All for a few more free parking spaces.

If only we could get them to direct their talents to implement those policies with the same vigor.

Jeff Schumacher said...

Preservation for preservation's sake does not particularly interest me. I'd rather see improvement. Politically, the hospital will likely prevail in their destruction of Howard Hall - this should have been obvious from the moment the hospital made it clear that Howard Hall was in the crosshairs.

It seems like the opposition to this pending raze has relied on two main arguments: (1) the Hall was designed by an architect of some renown, and (2) the hospital has failed to demonstrate it meets the criteria for demolition under the historic preservation code. Both of these may very well be true, and both avenues at this late hour are worth pursuing. But if or when the City Council gets the area's largest private employer's appeal to tear down the Hall, is there much doubt the hospital will prevail? I may be cynical, but it seems unlikely the hospital will be denied even if their project leaves much to be desired.

I do wonder if it would have been better to work with the hospital to reduce parking and increase pedestrian access in exchange for not opposing the Hall's demolition. Maybe the hospital wouldn't have been interested in such a compromise, but they did show a willingness to address several other concerns raised by SCAN. Certainly the City could (and should) use this development as an opportunity to improve pedestrian access in that area (and deny the hospital's application for a variance on the parking spaces in excess of what is allowed by City code) but I'm not holding my breath.

Curt said...


The driveway on Church St. was always a much bigger issue for SCAN neighbors than Howard Hall. There are many that don't care what happens to the property as long as they don't put the driveway on their street. Bike/ped. issues were a big part of that debate, but only because they felt it strengthened their argument against the driveway.

I see this kind of "bikewashing" of development issues over and over again.

I have lived in Salem for almost 4 years I have been active with SCAN for 3, I have been on the board for 2, and have been active on this issue for that entire time. I sat down with Martin Morris of Salem Health Foundation to discuss design elements for the bike/ped. path in their plans. (bikewashing!) I even brought my signed copy of The High Cost Of Free Parking to the meeting. I have used every opportunity to forward your message to Salem Health. They have rejected that argument from the very beginning. The have consistently asserted (just as the city has) over and over again that they have no influence over the transportation choices of their employees.

As the Streetfilm shows, shame can used as an effective tool for social change (insert Saul Alinsky quote here). If the city and Salem Health never need to feel the sting of shame, they will never have any reason to reconsider their actions in the future. While I like to hold up OHSU as an example of a more enlightened example how sound parking policy and community development can promote a healthier built environment; they too have battled their neighbors over the years to get to that point.

One tangible outcome of this is that I think SCAN board is much more aware of the costs of free parking and the benefits of modern parking reform that they were before. That in itself is incremental progress.

I can't really get my head around the "preservation for preservation sake" point. We never know what Howard Hall could be if it is torn down. Howard Hall was built in 1927 (IIRC). I moved here from Montpelier,VT. Every building in the city center was built before then and they are all still in use today. It could easily have become a stale government town languishing in the shadow of its larger, trendier neighbor to the north. But the building stock has been preserved and the city has been allowed to mature and evolved into a unique an colorful city that attracts talented, educated and creative people from around the world. Its much more bikeable than Salem and don't even think there is a single bike lane in the city limits. (No Stroads either)

But again, if there is some way to get all these actors to use their creativity, talent and determination to fight for the city's policies with the same vigor as they fight for those 87 parking spaces--Salem would be a much different place.

Jeff Schumacher said...

Curt, I appreciate your efforts to enlighten the hospital. It is disappointing that they have rejected the logic in encouraging their employees to walk/bike in favor of more parking. It is equally disappointing that the City would allow that new parking without also improving the infrastructure for walkers and bikers, particularly since it will only be more hazardous with the new development going in.

Sure, we will never know what Howard Hall could be if it is torn down. And if it isn't torn down, it will be a landlocked vacant building with an intransigent owner and no parking or access of its own. Again, maybe I'm just too cynical about this process but if Howard Hall is left standing and remain vacant for several years, I will be quite disappointed. Particularly if the adjacent property is a series of giant parking lots, and the Hall is surrounded by a chain link fence. I suppose that at the end of the day, a lot of the blame belongs to the State of Oregon for selling the entire parcel to the hospital when they could have separated out Howard Hall and its adjacent green space.

Anonymous said...

Not on Howard Hall, but the Council Goals update is interesting -

Curt said...

You are right Jeff. Howard Hall is essentially a hostage that will not be set free any time soon. If the Hospital doesn't get their way, it will be demolished by neglect. I don't have any memory of Howard Hall without a fence around it so I guess I'm desensitized to it along with the rest of the chain link around town.

But it does have a parking lot that is at least as big as Word Of Mouth's parking lot and that is the most popular place in town. John Van Driel is probably right that the neighbors would not support that type of use for it either.

Lots to support in the Council Goals. Perhaps if there were more support for the good goals council would devote more time and effort into achieving them instead of fighting over the bad ones.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Regarding Willamette University wanting an Urban Renewal area from State to 14th. I wonder if this is to finally force Salem-Keizer Schools to sell their property in the area to them. They have been after the property for decades and the District keeps fending them off. At some point my guess is that they will get their way. Just hope that this is not a way to push the price down, because the taxpayers will lose in the end if it does.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the Council Goals. My tour through Monday's Council agenda was pretty slapdash!

In the Goals update are some new 2014-15 Goals:

- expand railroad quiet zone
- "workforce development" (this one's a bit vague, but related to the EOA-HNA project)
- grow the nascent beer and wine cluster in Fairview and McGilchrist
- acquire property along creeks for flood control
- improve bus service
- improve connection between downtown and Riverfront Park

Also, in light of the Howard Hall debate, it might be worth remembering this previous Goal: "Prepare a strategy for using Salem's historic and cultural properties in a coordinated manner that increases the focus on building historic tourism and economic development." (FAIL!)

As for the urban renewal on 14th - how would it even work? If the WU property as well as the school property is off the tax rolls, where's the prospective tax increment even come from? You'd be squeezing it all out of smaller number of privately owned parcels. It doesn't seem like it adds up. And the school was just relocated for the hospital like a decade ago, right? Why would they have any interest in selling and moving? Lots of questions here...

Curt said...

I think Susann was referring to the offices near 14th and Ferry, not Bush Elementary. WU is in no position to purchase more property. They are struggling just to catch up with deferred maintenance on their existing property. They have a parking lot and a another mostly vacant lot down near Oak. A URA might make those lots more attractive to sell and redevelop. With the future prospects for improved commuter rail service it might have some potential for some TOD. That would be a big win for taxpayers.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

SESNA changed the meeting location. Post is updated.

The school district offices makes way more sense. Thanks for correcting that. TOD there is intriguing, and it would be interesting to learn more about those ideas.