Saturday, July 12, 2014

City Council, July 14th - Stinky at the Blind School!

After a bit of a lull, Council has a full and meaty agenda for Monday. Howard Hall and Food Trucks will be the highlights, and there's not much new to say on them, but another matter perhaps best sums up the City's stance overall.

Staff recommends a change to the composition of the Planning Commission and that Council
Adopt Resolution No. 2014-51 to initiate amendments to Salem Revised Code Chapter 6 increasing from one (1) to two (2), the limit on the number of members who may be principally involved in buying, selling, or developing real estate for profit, and a limit of one (1) to two (2) the number of members who may be engaged in the same business, trade or profession as allowed under ORS 227.030.
We are in thrall!

So it's not quite that bad - the Staff Report notes that other nearby cities also have up to two real estate / developer types on their planning commissions.  But clearly this is why Council paused on appointments to the Planning Commission earlier this year and held open one spot. It's not likely a conspiracy, but it sure gives off a whiff or two of cronyism.

Howard Hall

Ah, but the big stinky is at the Blind School. At Howard Hall the City seemingly has no interest in applying the values in our historic preservation codes and our transportation plan as updated in Bike and Walk Salem.

Plenty of room
There are two related matters at Council, and one of the problems is that while the matters are plainly related, it is convenient to treat them separately as wholly distinct legal and administrative matters in a divide-and-conquer strategy - just like pitting preservationists against people with disabilities.
There's nothing really new to say on Howard Hall itself, but the City's response to transportation issues brought up by SCAN is telling:

SCAN asked about improving crossing Mission at Church and at Winter, as well as to ask about improved bike lanes, and the City said, "take a hike."

Sometimes the plain meaning of something suggests the City is misapplying a rule or policy. Here in this particular detail I don't think that's the case. But what is interesting is that the City really has a choice:  The City can choose to coordinate and improve things and adopt a generous interpretation of the values in higher level plans, or the City can duck under procedural technicalities (valid, so far as they go) and say they are helpless or don't need to do anything more. The latter is the choice here.

This is a fine example of the way that so much of our planning and governance is more about words than deeds. When it comes down to actual decisions about implementing the values in things like Bike and Walk Salem and our historic codes, the City too often chooses not to walk the talk.

Other Stuff

Speaking of parking lots, free parking means the City-owned parking garages require an infusion of over $700,000 in urban renewal funds for capital expenses.

There are some details on a tiny bit of right-of-way acquisition for the pedestrian median at 17th and Nebraska.

Information on a Cherriots application for a FTA "ladders of opportunity" grant to fund new buses and the South Salem Transit Center. Cherriots does not appear to be in line for a ConnectOregon grant to plan the Transit Center, and this grant is for "construction" so there's still some detail missing. Perhaps Cherriots has identified a site and not announced it yet. More to come, clearly.

Also information on Grocery Outlet on D street between Front and Commercial. It got rezoned to be in compliance and apparently to stage things for investment and improvements there. The application talks about keeping the grocery there and adding other uses. So that sounds like a very good thing. It would be great for this area to get some redevelopment. The news about the fire at the UGM store, just across the street from the grocery, suggests the Mission's shelter facilities will be moving to that site as well. I'm not entirely clear on this. There may be some future conflicts over what kind of redevelopment we want in this area and what kinds of gentrification are welcome and what kinds are not.

There's an intergovernmental agreement between the City and ODOT for new signal connectivity on our traffic lights. It would be great to see smart flexibility on signal timing around town! (But the "internet of things" also brings its own vulnerabilities, of course!)

The proposed Legislative priorities for the 2015 session contains an interesting transportation tidbit:
Pass a comprehensive transportation funding and policy package that includes elements such as a gas tax increase of 5 cents/gallon, expansion of the state's commitment to a transportation user fee based on vehicle miles traveled and a 50%-30%-20% split of new highway revenues between the state, counties, and cities.
I don't know the signficance of the 50/30/20 split, and will have to check on that. (Readers, anyone know what the current split is? A reader supplies the answer: 60/24/16!) But it's interesting to see support for a tiny, tiny increase in the gax tax as well as support for a VMT tax. (Remember, taxes on houses and property are funding the current road bond, not any fees or taxes on cars and car use.) In truth we need a much larger increase. (In a comment below, Jim points out that there's actually two layers of "recommendation": The League of Oregon Cities sent out a slate of possible priorities; the Council subcommittee "recommended" subset of seven for "consideration"; and then recommends votes in support of an even smaller subset, four out of the seven. Why the "recommendation" for three non-recommended is not at all clear. This is misleading, and a detail I missed. The gas tax and transpo funding bit is one of the three non-recommended "recommended" policy proposals.)

There's formal transfer of already-committed Urban Renewal funds for construction on the Minto Bridge.

And appointments to the West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board and other committees


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Another issue that is sliding under the radar is that the update of the Unified Development Code is moving to the 'bucket list' stage on Monday with a worksession at 5:30 p.m. in the Anderson Room of the Library.

This 'bucket list' is all the items that the UDC process uncovered that need to be changed, or at least considered for change. It is long and complicated, but basically it means that things will change in our code and in some cases dramatically.

When you add the suggestion to change the composition of the Planning Commission to more real estate and development people with this pending work, in my opinion, Salem is in a real serious place as to our future.

Also, Salem is way behind on doing their 20-year State required 'comprehensive plan update.'

After spending about $1 million on the process, former Mayor Taylor pulled the plug. The City is now doing the job in pieces. The UDC was the precursor to doing this SCP update and it is intended that it will be done bit by bit.

This way, I feel, the public will have almost no ability to 1) see the impact of these incremental changes; and 2) have an meaningful voice in the outcome.

One of the long range plans of the development community is to expand development east beyond the UGB. Something that might be an eventual outcome regardless of the impact on agricultural land, but which should be a long way off and only after Salem figures out how to build up, not out!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Just double checked about the work session on the UDC and found it has been moved to July 28th. Time to study the issue.

WORK SESSIONS – Held in the Library Anderson Rooms unless otherwise noted

Planning Salem: Discussing a Long-Range Planning Work Program for UDC follow-up items ~ Monday, July 28, 5:30 p.m.

Jim Scheppke said...

The transportation plank in the possible LOC legislative agenda is NOT being recommended for approval to the Council by the Legislative Committee comprised of Councilors Bennett, Nanke and Clausen. I'm not surprised.

Curt said...

On the hospital's proposal to exceed the maximum parking limits: Ch. 133 of the SRC doesn't provide for any exception to the parking maximums. It provides exceptions to the minimums in order to encourage more efficient land use, transit oriented development, encouragement of alternate modes, and so on...

Another example of how creative city staff can be in working around the code and undermining the goals, policies and objectives in the TSP. Imagine what Salem could be like if they actually implemented those same policies with the same vigor.

The parking activists are justified for not trusting the city's intentions on downtown parking. The city just doesn't have any credibility on the issue.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks Jim. Updated with clarification on the gas tax legislative concept.

Thanks also Susann and Curt for the additional info.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

If anyone is interested in knowing what is on the UDC Bucket List you can find a link at

"The UDC “Bucket List” is an ongoing list of issues identified with Salem’s zoning and development codes. The code issues on the list represent major policy issues that fall outside the scope of the UDC project. As review of the UDC progresses, any issues identified that go beyond code cleanup are added to the list and will be set aside for consideration under future code amendments addressing major policy issues."

The document is 7 pages long and takes in both general issues and very specific issues. This is some pretty important stuff for Neighborhoods to be watching out for.

Here is a bit of the content to wet your interest.....

1) Development Standards for Older Neighborhoods. There is a need for different development standards for older residential neighborhoods, or a different type of variance or adjustment process, to make additions and remodeling to existing older properties easier.

Current code standards are suited to new patterns of development, rather than traditional development patterns found in older neighborhoods.

2) Street Standards. New street standards are needed specifically tailored to infill development
that would allow for smaller and more creative designs that would be maintained by the public
and provide for vehicular and pedestrian connectivity throughout the development, and to the surrounding neighborhood. This would provide for an alternative to flag lot accessways. Flag lot
accessways deteriorate over time due to lack of maintenance.

3) Street Connectivity. Better street connectivity standards are needed within the code to
promote a grid pattern of development, instead of cul-de-sacs. Pedestrian public walkways are
not an answer to connectivity because they serve as an attractive nuisance and encourage crime
and unwanted activity in neighborhoods.

4) Residential Infill. Better infill residential development standards are needed to promote
compatibility with existing neighborhoods. . Design review could be required for infill
development on flag lots. "

Anonymous said...

I love this blog and that you follow local planning and transportation issues. I do want to point out that you stated that the hospital request was for a parking variance and that is not the case. The zoning code allows multiple lots, when under one ownership, to be considered as one lot for development purposes. This is not a special or unique provision for the hospital. I doubt you can find a shopping center in Salem that hasn't used this provision. I am not a fan of surface parking lots, especially in inner city neighborhoods, but I don't think it is fair to mis-characterize what is permitted either.

Curt said...

Here is exactly what Ch. 133 says:

133.100. Off-street Vehicle Parking Requirements

a. Except as otherwise specifically provided in this zoning code, off street parking spaces shall be provided in amounts not less than those set forth in Table 133-1.

b. Off-street parking spaces shall not exceed 2.5 times the amount required under Table 133-1 if such amount is 20 or less; and 1.75 times the amount required is more than 20.

The code provides the "campus" exception in order to satisfy maximums, not to exceed minimums. The city planning department's creative interpretation of the code is inconsistent with the goals, objectives and policies in the parking management element of the TSP.

If it is true that shopping centers have been misapplying code in order to exceed maximums, then that just makes Salem an example of the awful consequences that result when city planners allow developers to violate maximum parking limits.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A reader sends in some additional detail:

Current split for the State gas tax is 60.05 – 24.38 – 15.57 state – counties – cities.

Current state gas tax is $0.30 per gallon. In 2009 HB 2001 increased the tax by $0.06 per gallon, so the proposed increase is in line with that. For reference, federal gas tax is $0.186 per gallon....

RE: Signal controllers

You type “ It would be great to see smart flexibility on signal timing around town”

Depending on how you define “smart flexibility”, these signal controllers may or may not meet that criteria. There are already 2070s located in the area. But they do provide additional capabilities. “Smart flexibility” could be interpreted to mean ‘adaptive signal control’, where the timing patterns change based on the actual volume for the signal (or corridor). That requires additional software (and maybe different controllers, not totally sure).

RE: Transit

They haven’t decided on a South Salem location (although they are narrowing it down and should be starting the next round of public involvement in late summer/early fall)....

Thanks for the details!

As for the "smart flexibility" the paradigmatic example is when I'm on a low/lower traffic street trying to cross a high traffic street on a Sunday, and there is actually very little traffic on the "high traffic" street, why can't the signals interrupt the normal cycle and give the person on foot/bike a green? If there are no cars for blocks, why do I have to wait for the whole signal cycle, sometimes measured in multiple minutes?

So yeah, then, what you say is "adaptive signal control."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Re: Anon and Curt on the question of a parking variance.

Letters dated March 3rd and April 22nd from the Hospital's architect SEA both suggest that the team felt they needed permission to exceed the 177 maximum number of stalls. If this wasn't a contested issue, why would they even raise the question? Presumably at the pre-application meeting(s) if the usual and customary "shopping center" approach was the convention here, the question of exceeding the 177 wouldn't have been mentioned and the number of stalls would have been silently approved.

At the same time, Anon you are correct that strictly speaking this was only a "Class 3 site plan review" and "Chapter 68 variance" for tree removal.

Even with that information, I still read this as the City unnecessarily being "helpful" in finding a loophole that will permit an excess of parking stalls.

From the staff response in the decision: "The minimum off-street parking requirement for the rehabilitation building and hospitality house is 108 spaces, and the maximum permitted 189. The number of new parking spaces on the proposed site is 264, which exceeds the maximum number of parking spaces for the rehabilitation building and hospitality house if they were considered as standalone uses; however when considering the parking requirements for the entire campus, the proposed within the minimum [and maximum]"

In the sense of seeking an exception, I don't see how this doesn't meet the conversational sense of "variance" - even if it is not exactly the administrative and legal one. It's another example of the difference between an instance of the values in higher level plans vs. ducking behind a detail and technicality.

As Curt suggests, it will be interesting to learn more about how and why this maneuver is employed for shopping centers.

Curt said...

I can't imagine why a shopping center would have an interest in providing any more than the minimum because it means that they would have less land to develop and charge rent; making such a development less profitable. The hospital is a non-profit, so that is not a motivation for them.

SCAN has officially appealed the site plan/tree variance. So we will see what the hearings officer will decide.