Saturday, March 14, 2015

Planning Commission to Consider Drive-Throughs on High and Broadway Streets

On Tuesday the Planning Commission will consider a request to allow drive-throughs in an area with an overlay zone on north High Street and Broadway that excludes them.

You know the blog is no fan of drive-throughs, regarding them as generally pernicious and a pox on urban space and sidewalk vitality!

And you may recall the debate at the Historic Landmarks Commission and the Planning Commission about allowing drive-throughs in the downtown historic district.

A couple years ago, a different drive-through:
The abandoned plan for a drive-through
at State and Commercial
The situation here is not entirely different. The streetcar-era vestiges along the High Street/Broadway corridor don't rise to the level of an historic district, but they are still valuable, and we should have great interest in building on them and making this corridor one of Salem's most walkable. Fortunately the new construction near Market and Broadway, like Salem Cinema and Broadway Commons, retain the same scale, and contribute to pleasant sidewalk life.

So it was interesting to read the application.

The parcel at Division and High: Mostly parking lot
MAPS Credit Union wants to redevelop a parking lot they own adjacent to their building on Liberty and Division.

There's an old commercial building there that looks like it could be reused - it has character! - but it will probably get demolished. Otherwise, the lot is a void, just a parking lot with a chain link fence.

The alley off Division and the Auto Body building
(Could the building be saved and reused?)
The applicant's letter requesting the code change is interesting and turns out to be pretty reasonable:
The property is currently an auto body shop and related storage building. The body shop and storage building are in the southern part of the property. The northern part is a parking area that has been leased to a nearby auto dealer...MAPS plans to redevelop the property with a new building to house a Credit Union branch and office space....the [Broadway/High Street] Overlay Zone's prohibition on drive-throughs is an obstacle to the redevelopment of the property....

A new MAPS Credit Union branch at this location will improve the neighborhood and be consistent with the purpose of the Overlay Zone, which...[is] to promote a "pedestrian-oriented mixed-use residential and commercial district with an emphasis on retail". Replacing the auto body shop with financial services will expand and promote the retail component of the Overlay concept. However, unlike most other types of retail and office uses, a drive-through is necessary to the operation of the Credit Union, as it is an essential and expected part of the services it offers its customers. In addition, sufficient residential density has not yet developed within and around the designated Overlay district to support the operation of a Credit Union branch based on pedestrian access alone....

...the configuration of the site would allow a drive-through to be situated on the west side of a building, in the interior of the property, opposite the High Street frontage. Access could be provided from the alley that currently serves the the Administration building parking lot. At that location a drive-through would not visually intrude on or alter the pedestrian character of the street frontage.

As a Conditional Use, any proposal for a drive-through would be evaluated on the basis of its specific circumstances. In this case, the factors that would allow a drive through to be compatible with the intent of the Overlay district merit consideration through the Conditional Use process. Amending the code to provide the opportunity to evaluate and recognize when the circumstances are appropriate could contribute to the intended redevelopment of the Overlay district.
I don't see how you say "no" to this proposal. All things considered, it seems pretty reasonable and anticipates the major objections.

The real question is about the integrity of the Conditional Use process. Can you wrap enough restrictions around it so that this really becomes a special case, an exception, and not create loopholes that could permit fast-food franchises to come in and get a drive-through? There was concern in the previous downtown case that allowing drive-throughs could contribute to making demolitions more attractive than reuse.

And if, as the letter suggests, the bank wants to keep the "pedestrian character" of the High Street frontage, will that mean keeping High Street free of a driveway, and having all of the auto access be via the alley? MAPS' existing building has no access via Liberty, and the alley is wide enough for two-way traffic, so this is more than theoretically possible.

(Here's one related idea: Salem should require new drive-throughs to serve walking and biking customers! Banks and other businesses should not be able to say for customers in cars only. If Burgerville can do it, so can others.)

The proposal is on the consent calendar, and they'll hold a formal Public Hearing on the matter later. It'll be interesting to read the Staff Report at that time. But again, unless you attribute some sneakiness to the Credit Union, on the surface this seems totally reasonable. Imperfect yes, but much better than the large surface parking lot.

At this particular location to trade a parking lot for a new building to front High Street and a drive-through accessed off the alley seems like a distinct improvement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a relevant article, but about the "other" side.