Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Proposed Vacation of Rights-of-Way at Blind School Held Open for Comment

Weed of course got the headlines, but last night at Council a neighbor in SCAN successfully requested Council to keep the record open for additional comment on the proposed vacation of four remnant rights-of-way at the Blind School property the Hospital plans to make into a parking lot ornamented by a couple of buildings and a garden/playground.

Two alleys and two street stubs proposed to be vacated
This had seemed like a matter unimportant relative to the two LUBA appeals, on on the demolition, and one on the trees, street improvements, and parking stall allowance; but perhaps this is an underestimate.

On the one hand the City says,
the rights-of-way proposed for vacation have not been used by the public for several decades, and the parties had assumed the area had previously been vacated.
But on the other hand, there's the copious balderdash:
The proposed Outpatient Rehabilitation Center project creates a unique opportunity to provide improvements that would strengthen the pedestrian connection between two important City resources, Bush's Pasture Park and Pringle Park, as well as serve the proposed Salem Hospital Commemorative Garden and Adaptive Playground for disabled children.
The Hospital's proposal is actually anti-unique! They propose to demolish the resource, Howard Hall, that is in fact unique, and then replace it with generic parking lot and a playground that could be sited any number of other places. Further, the improvements for walking are not very great in magnitude or in quality, and also fail to be unique in any sense other than hyperbole.

There are several criteria, and comment should be addressed specifically to them. I'm not sure the grounds for opposition, on the merits, are all that strong, except for one:
(H) The public interest would not be prejudiced by the vacation.
Folks have suggested that because of the two appeals now at LUBA, and the on-going contested nature of this development, it is entirely premature to discuss the vacation until the appeals are settled and the development plan is finalized.

That seems to be a clear way this vacation would prejudice the public interest.

It will be interesting to read and hear what others have to say. Some have raised questions about the way the land has been valued in the City's "Assessment of Special Benefit" on the vacation. So there may be other moving parts here that also merit delay.

In a general sense, though, it's hard to understand why this can't all wait until the other legal matters are settled.

The land along Winter Street will flood (1964)
Something that hasn't got much discussion, and maybe it fits awkwardly here, but we'll bring it up anyway, is that the Neighborhood Association, going back early in the conversation and then negotiation with the Hospital, has consistently asked for low-density and single-story development along Church Street in a sort of vertical triangle going to higher density and higher buildings along Winter Street.

Elevation and density triangle preferred by neighbors
But that doesn't actually work. Because of flooding, the Hospital is right not to build on Winter Street, and so the meaningful development has to occur on southwest horizontal triangle bounded by Mission and Church Street. A parking lot or playground, something that can flood, is probably the best use for that low-elevation parcel along Winter Street.

This means that the corner of Mission and Church should have a much higher value, and it is still difficult to understand why they want to put a playground there - unless they planned on leveling it at a later date as they want to level Howard Hall today.

In any case, the Neighborhood Association's wish for an ornamental emptiness along Church Street is inconsistent with any reasonable development plan for the parcel. It may have been a self-defeating tactic.

To be clear, this is distinct from the lousy plan the Hospital has put forward to demolish Howard Hall, cut trees, and pave a vast parking lot.

But the wish for low-density parky nothingness along Church Street has made it more difficult to find a genuine compromise and probably ensured that we will have a sub-optimal outcome for everyone. More density in a streetcar scaled walkable development along Church Street might have made it easier to retain Howard Hall, for example.

In this way, green emptiness and asphalt emptiness are functionally not so different from each other, and both have had a deleterious effect on the total development possibilities.


Curt said...

Your critique of SCANs position is not entirely fair. The absolute best case scenario for SCAN would have been for the entire OSB campus to be preserved. Which is significantly more density than what we are getting with this proposal. The neighborhood's desire to keep that section of the property at similar levels of density should not be conflated with a zero density parking lot. Nor should it be construed as a license to waive the parking requirements under SRC 133.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Thank you for digging up the pciture of the flooding problem in this area. My assumption is that by taking out all of the trees and lawn then grading the land to put in an impermeable surface parking lot will increase the likelihood of more flooding. Plus, this parking lot is going to put more pollution into the creek. Yes, yes, I know they say they put in all this natural filtation systems now, but truth is that in heavy rain and flooding all that 'protection' goes out the window.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

@Curt - you might be right, but I'm also not sure I understand your objection and critique. Unfortunately I can't locate a source document, but two-three years ago during early conversations with the Hospital one of the requests from the neighborhood association was related in indirect summary this way:

"The neighborhood has suggested a sort of triangle for structure: Along Church Street low buildings, low intensity activity, and greenscape should be the predominant note; building height and activity should slope upwards to meet the mid-rise and more intense kind of development in the hospital towers and buildings on Winter Street."

It is this request that I think may have backfired.

If the Hospital had proposed a larger, multi-use facility in an urban form flush with the sidewalk on Church Street, instead of the current suburban office park model set back, would the NA have gone along? My sense was they wanted a mainly empty "greenway" along Church Street, not a streetcar-scaled building.

So the hypothesis here is that the Hospital eventually will want to build more on the parking lot areas, and that giving them more flexibility along Church Street now might have eased the pressure on Howard Hall and made it easier to push around all the different pieces into a compromise site configuration that preserved Howard Hall, preserved more (but perhaps not all) trees, and gave the Hospital the redevelopment they wanted.

As for the Hospital's proposed parking stall overage, of course it remains thoroughly wrong-headed, and I hope there's nothing here that actually suggests "a license [or reason] to waive the parking requirements." (That you read in this the possibility is surprising!)

@Susann - I think flooding of this magnitude is caused by the Willamette backing up Pringle Creek rather than the sort of more local flash-y flood we might get from immediate surface run-off. The 1964 flood was about 7 feet higher than the 2012 flood and 2 feet higher than the 1996 flood. It would be interesting for a hydrologist to chime in, but I suspect that pervious vs. impervious surfaces at this specific site, even for a hideously large parking lot, wouldn't be implicated in meaningfully increasing severe flooding right here.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Frankly, what I have seen over the 60 plus years I have lived in Salem is that the City planners have pretty much underestimated what water will do. The engineers always give you all these nice calculations, but the fact remains that the whole drainage system is not really designed as a total entity. Tim Gerling when he was Director of Public Works did a great deal of work creating the Waste Water Master Plan to try to address the accumulative impact of development on water flow. However, systematically the Plan gets changed. He warned the PC and CC not to allow any changes on a case by case basis, unless it was done in context of the overall system. I am not concinved that they understood what he was saying.

All construction upstream of course impacts downstream. We make planning decisions based on the site, not the sytem as a hole. Each development is supposed to confirm that they will not release any more water into the streams after construction than before construction. However, even the local flooding that we saw on Mill Creek the last time was due to development that put a little bit here and a little bit there until it turned out to be a lot.

I am just pointing out that the creek floods in this area on a pretty regular basis and unless you change a whole lot of what is happening and has happened (not going to happen) this area will continue to have flooding issues.

Also, think of this...in an earthquake if Big Cliff dam up the Santiam breaks then we are all going to be out of luck. And our only hospital is in that flood zone.

I lived through the floods in the 1960s when not only was a lot of the area around the airport flooded, but the City shops, Shelton Ditch and Pringle Creek. Since then the City has piped a lot of those creeks and this pushed water into Mill Creek instead. So much for the engineers' theories of what to do with water.

The risk is not just from the Willamette River backing up.

In 1996 parts of east Salem where I live flooded even though apparently the subdivisions were supposed to be safe by all accounts of the engineers. i was land use chairperson for ELNA during the late 80's and 90's and I would argue each time that they needed to watch out for flooding on the Little Pudding River, but each time they would tell me I was silly because they had engineered for a 100 year flood. Then several of these subdivisions flooded several times even before 1996. So, I no longer believe the 'officials'when ti comes to predicting what water will do. It has a mind of it's own.

You can't change that fact that SH exists in a flood prone area between two major creeks.

BTW, my mother grew up in Salem and she told me once when the hospital flooded in 1964 that this was one of the reasons why people objected to them moving the hospital from Center Street to that location.

Curt said...

SBOB: I'm am not suggesting that you are willing to waive parking requirements. The hospital should not interpret SCAN's input as an endorsement to waive the parking requirements (or the boundary street improvements required in code). SCAN's input had nothing to do with the most objectionable aspects of this development.