Saturday, December 13, 2014

City Council, December 15th - the Courtney Bridge and a Mysterious $2M

At the head of Council's agenda for Monday is a fitting tribute to a long-time Salem politician.

The City proposes to name the Minto bridge after Peter Courtney, who was on City Council in 1975 when the bridge idea first hatched and the first Riverfront Downtown Urban Renewal Plan adopted. Since 1980, at the Legislature he's done a bunch of other stuff. You may recall that he was involved in the $1.6 million in STIP funding that was the final piece for the project. He also runs and bikes a good bit for recreation and exercise, participating in the Monster Cookie, for example.

Seems like a pretty fair idea, don't you think?

There's also an interesting agreement on the Pacwest development out on Kuebler Road. The City says the total cost of the Kuebler widening is going to be about $5 million, and the fair share for Pacwest would be $3 million. So far so good. But then the City proposes to give back $2 million in System Development Charges:
Developer shall pay to the City the sum of $3 million, which the parties acknowledge is a reasonable estimate of developer's cost to provide the Kuebler Boulevard SE improvement, and other associated Qualified Public Improvements (Required Improvements)....

The parties agree that upon completion of the Qualified Public Improvements developer will be entitled to $2 million in SDC credits that may be used to offset SDC charges for the property and related development owned by the developer.
Maybe there's a good reason for this, but it sure looks a little funny! If the fair estimate is $3 million, then why is it going to become an effective sum of $1 million?

This development has also been the subject of some debate in no small part, as I understand it, because the City has granted it a driveway off of Kuebler, and as a parkway, a kind of urban highway, Kuebler is generally not supposed to have driveway connections in order to facilitate the free-flow of traffic (that hydraulic autoism). It seems like there might be multiple layers of developer subsidy here - but at least in Urban Renewal and Enterprise Zones, municipal subsidies are rather more direct and are called out and enumerated. Public benefits are easier to assesses - from here, for example, a $2M subsidy on Riverfront Park and Boise is much easier to justify than $2M on a Kuebler strip mall. Or why not $2M for the vacant Rose Gardens/Epping property on Portland Road? The comparative benefit here looks off.

Anyway, this complicated, others will know the history better, and perhaps they will find the matter worth more conversation, even debate, than a silent Council action among the consent items.

Update, Sunday

Revisiting the Staff Report yields this, which I think is the center of the matter:
The Kuebler Boulevard SE improvement, as well as the other Qualified Public Improvements, will provide more capacity than the traffic impact of the development. SRC Chapter 41 provides that the developer will be entitled to SDC credits upon completion of those improvements, and can use those credits to offset SDC payments the developer will be required to make for development of the property.
So basically the City's taking a loan to complete the Kuebler work, and then paying back the money via SDC credits.

The real problem here, then, is maybe not so much that there's a
reduction in the total amount the developer is "paying" in SDCs ($3 million payment - $2 million in SDC credits), but that the SDC charges, which might go to a variety of different infrastructure elements, are all concentrated on overbuilding Kuebler. And overall the SDCs are probably too small.

This may be less a case of funny accounting and sweetheart dealing than it is a case of misplaced priorities, insufficiently small SDCs, and out-of-date notions and analysis of "traffic impact."

Other Things

There's an information report on "Council accomplishments," but some of them are of the paper sort rather than concrete and asphalt. The list is maybe padded out with adopted plans rather than completed projects from those plans. Your mileage may vary, but I wished I had seen more vision and a larger proportion of grander things. Still, it is interesting to read the list for the City's own synoptic view of things.

There's an adjustment on the food cart ordinances to accommodate special events and events in the streets or alleys.

Finally, there will be an appointment to the Planning Commission, but the Staff Report doesn't share a recommendation.


Anonymous said...

What you say about the "Courtney Bridge" is true enough, but don't you think it's an interesting coincidence that at the 3rd Bridge Oversight Team meeting, the cocktail napkin-level "funding plan" includes a wish for $150 million in state funding, almost certainly executed by the legislature? It's not too difficult to spin a tale of lobbying the Senate President here!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Huh. I think you might be reaching, Anon. I read the motives in the gesture as more straightforward and innocent. But maybe others will have different ideas - or better information.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Also updated with more on Pacwest and Kuebler.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Yur analysis of SDCs for streets is spot on! Some of the SDCs were deliberately set by Council to be less than the actual cost of building the infrastructure required.

The street SDC is one of those. I can't recall the exact percentage as they were established back in the late 1990s, but my recollection is that they were by one formula about 60% of the true cost.

Developers always argue that if the full cost of development were born by the SDCs it would make it impossible to do the project. However, other communities have higher SDCs than Salem and it has not seemed to stop development in those communities.

How you calculate an SDC is very policital. It depends on the formula that you use and then how much of the cost you want to put on the developer.

Our water rates some claim are higher because our SDCs are set too low. I am not an expert in this matter, but I know that there is a lot of controversy around them.

Second point you made that is spot on was about allowing the driveway on Keubler. That road was intended to be a througway to get people around Salem and/ or to I-5. Now the Planning department with the PC and Council's cooperation is undermining the intent. Keubler may not become a Lancaster Drive, but it will not be a beltway as hoped. Commerce wins out every time over livability!