Friday, February 6, 2015

Quid pro Quo in Historic Preservation: At Council Monday Parenthetically

Did you know Salem's a Heritage All Star Community?

Salem: Heritage All Star!
On Monday Council will entertain a couple of small matters regarding historic preservation and while there's nothing really new or insightful to say, perhaps it would be interesting to revisit a couple of things.

One of the arguments for demolishing Howard Hall has been that "it's private property now, the Hospital owns it, they should be free to do with it as they see fit."

But there's actually a deep connection between the City of Salem and Salem Health that makes the Hospital take on some important quasi-public qualities in addition to their non-profit status.

Council appoints Hospital Facilities Authority

Council helps float tax-free bonds
Council appoints members of a board, the Hospital Facility Authority, and appears themselves to have two seats on it.

Additionally, the Hospital is funding the Blind School redevelopment via what looks like a pass-through mechanism, using the City of Salem's bonding authority (or something like it) to secure the tax-free bonds.

When the Hospital says "It has $1.44 million in hand to build the garden [and playground in the footprint of the demolished hall]" they are in some sense using semi-public funds acquired via the City of Salem with this pass-through. (They may not have actually issued bonds yet, but bonds will fund the thing in total, and the $1.44M will likely "return" to some other funding pot.)

There is an unseemly circularity here. At the very least, the City's involvement in funding matters provides ample grounds for attaching additional conditions to ways the Hospital can redevelop the Blind School parcel.

On the other hand, the deep connections created by the interlocking boards should make it clear we cannot expect objective oversight by City Council.

So, you know, whatever. Life's not fair. Move on.

(The next debates? Keep these in mind. From here, some look like reasonable demolitions, some do not, and either way they should be debated: The Belluschi bank at Liberty and Chemeketa; the buildings on the north campus of the State Hospital, including Belluschi's Breitenbush hall; some of the buildings at Fairview; and the Marion Car Park. You may know of others.)

Two other historic preservation matters are on the agenda.

Council will also consider a grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to "provide additional funds [$13,000] for the Historic Residential Toolbox Program and education for historic property owners."

Starkey-McCully Block and First National Bank
(The tower and Gerlinger Block on the corner are long gone,
but you can still read Lamport in the sidewalk!)
Image circa 1887, Salem Library Historic Photos
Finally, Council as Urban Renewal Agency will likely ratify the Downtown Advisory Board's recommendation in favor of urban renewal funds for the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation's renovation of the Starkey-McCully block.

For more discussion see here. It seemed like an interesting grey area with no obvious call. But it may also be a case, as with Howard Hall, where the quid pro quo is insufficiently considered for the public benefit.

Also, Restore Oregon has an interesting note about a case in Lake Oswego involving a house from 1855 that was appealed to LUBA and then to the Court of Appeals. The Court's decision would make it easier to de-list an historic property or place. This could impact a situation like when the Hospital proposed to delist Howard Hall. With this decision in force, maybe they would have been able to avoid all the appeals and maneuvering.

Because historic properties have wider benefits to the community - and crucially, not just benefits to the community today, but benefits to the community in the future in ways we may not be able to imagine today, that is the benefits have a dimension both in space and in time - they are not purely matters for individuals and of private property. There is a significant communal dimension that our current legal framework for preservation does not adequately consider.

(There are several other things of greater interest on Council agenda, so look for a second post over the weekend.)

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