Monday, November 23, 2015

Design, not Density, Should be Debate at State Hospital North Campus

The Rams Head Pub and The Campbell Hotel building
via McMenamins at NW Hoyt and 23rd
Elsewhere a skeptic about the redevelopment at the North Campus of the State Hospital summed up the case for the infill to be more single-family housing. It's worth considering in detail (words are quotes, but the order of some paragraphs has been altered). The feelings are sincere, though at least from here several of the claims seem unfounded or dubious. More than anything, they attest to the feeling of not being listened to and not having a project that is any kind of meaningful collaboration. But they also suggest that the conversation is at least partially rat-holed on density when it should instead be about design.
Try seeing this from the perspective of the people who already live here. We have been fighting to be heard through NESCA and other means for over two years. Some minor accomplishments have been made, but the City, during visits to NESCA meetings, has steadfastly denied plans for 450+ units of low income housing at North campus.

Not many people believed them.

[E]veryone in official positions has denied the North Campus was under attack from the City on the housing front. Such a development would render our remaining neighborhood of decent single family homes a new "crime central" requiring it own substation!

I've always wanted single family homes of a design compatible with the surroundings. There would be room for a range of such housing, including duplexes & lower income. What I'm afraid of is the whole slum landlord thing.

Putting aside characterization a of tenants, just the numbers are horrific: at the low mark of 3 humans per unit, that's 1,350 new bodies in the neighborhood. The local schools gave NO capacity for even one more child. It also means 840 vehicles or more coming and going 24/7.

Park & D will need widening, so the will take all our front yards (alá 17th) and our homes will be worth nothing!

Widened streets, more traffic and no green space is still very disappointing. I tend to think of "space" as what we have now. I'm not considering the typical postage stamp lawns or cookie cutter deciduous trees that seem to be favored in similar developments. I would prefer set backs, meandering bike & walking paths, maybe a water feature or two. There should be a children's play area in the middle, not at the margins. It would be nice if most of the existing trees were built around, and saved. Surely the population deserves such grace notes.

It's scary to lose 30 years of effort.
Nobody wants Cookie-Cutter Apartment Blocks

The cost of the land as well as the need for lower-carbon and lower-car lifestyles means that it is highly unlikely the parcel(s) can or will be developed simply as more single-family housing on the same template and spacing as the surrounding neighborhood. It doesn't seem possible at all to fight that battle. It's nearly certain that's not even on the table. So we need to give that up.

While some have casually argued for retaining the existing buildings for low-income housing instead of demolishing them, no one in any official capacity has suggested that this is a viable plan. Asbestos remediation alone is considerable. Given the City's desire to optimize property taxes on the parcel - since as a State institution the whole thing has been off the property tax rolls - I think there is a hope that there will be as much up-market housing as the market can support. (It is also unfair to characterize low-income housing as "crime central.") But too much homogeneousness - all low-income or all up-market housing - will also create problems and sap the resulting district of vitality. No monoculture: Jumble and mixed ecosystems! The challenge will be to ensure an appropriate mix of affordable housing and up-market housing. Hopefully a modest amount of commercial/retail/office space can be mixed in as well.

And the main battle to fight, then, is against car-dependent, inexpensive, particle-board blocks of three story apartment buildings. The setbacks characteristic of this cookie-cutter model create an enclave isolated from sidewalk life and neighborhood life: Too much setback deadens rather than enlivens. Active edges are key.

Typical parking lot with three-story apartment blocks
The battle is not so much about density as it is about design.

January 2014
And this is where the City and State have failed most badly. Some kind of master planning effort prior to the land's sale could walk neighbors through the exigencies of the site, of what is and is not possible, and develop a plan with them rather than despite them. It wouldn't satisfy everyone, but folks would be listened to, and some viable compromises be reached. Good design concepts can solve a lot - maybe not all, but a lot - of other problems.

But What about the Missing Middle?

I happen to think that D Street would make a lovely and walkable stretch with some two-story storefronts along it. This is a minority opinion, and most people seem to want residential housing facing D Street and any commercial development along Center Street only.

That being the case, the model of "The Missing Middle" provides a terrific typology of housing styles that would gradually slope from D Street to Center Street with increasing density and massing.

A great illustration of modest density increase!
(Image: Daniel Parolek, Opticos Design,
via BikePortland)

Detail of the "middle"
And What about this on Center?

At top of the post is the Ram's Head Pub on the street level of the Campbell Apartments in Portland, which have been converted to condos. That's a brick building from 1912. Here is new construction in Beaverton, the Signal apartments. (Even Forest Grove is getting into the act.)

The Signal in Beaverton - via Rembold development
and the City of Beaverton
Both are housing above retail or commercial space with very walkable and lively sidewalks. Neither building is very high, only a very low mid-rise kind of scale.

Even if you wouldn't want something like that on D Street, why not on Center Street? Put a neighborhood grocery store, something more robust than merely "convenience retail," on the ground floor?

Restoring Streetcar Scaled, Walkable Neighborhood Commerce

I don't know of course that either of those buildings would work, but it seems like they are the scale and type of construction we should want to embrace for at least part of the site along Center Street. Salem has no intact streetcar commercial districts outside of downtown, and the State Hospital parcel is an opportunity to recreate part of one. Far from harming adjacent property values, these districts and the jumble they contain would raise them.

If neighbors don't want lots of driving and parking, they should to be open to residential and commercial development that is walkable and enables lower-car lifestyles. These enhance, not detract, from neighborhoods!

Our lost Hollywood District, North Capitol and Hunt
via Salem Library Historic Photos
If we had retained the Hollywood District - wow, how different would housing values today be in north Salem. Urban Renewal there was a bust!

Fortunately, the North Broadway district from Belmont to Hood, with Broadway Commons, the YWCA/Family Building Blocks building, Salem Cinema, and with reuse of old grocery stores as the Northwest Hub, Barrel & Keg, and Christos - all this together is beginning to recover the old streetcar scale and vitality. It seems impossible to argue those projects are harming adjacent property values. The same can be true with the State Hospital parcel.

Area zoning - State Hospital in light blue
Not all streets are good candidates, though. Despite the overlay, Market Street is dreadful and autoist with parking lots not buildings facing the too-busy street. It has little potential to be remade near-term. (And if I recall right, the NEN-SESNA study recommended ending that overlay.) Center Street has some commercial and could become more walkable. And State Street above all retains some vestiges of an early 20th century streetcar scale (which is why it is getting so much attention in the State Street Corridory Study).

Even outside of downtown, these are assets to be leveraged, not problems to avoid.
People want to be on streets with other people,
and they avoid streets that are empty - D. Shoup
And more than just the neighborhood, the City of Salem as a whole needs a shift to more walkable development, and the State Hospital parcel needs to be a part of this.

We can sprawl out on the edges of the city, or we can seize precious parcels like this and create a more vibrant city closer to the city center. There are generous servings of win here to be seized!

A Tool for Housing

Finally, here's a tool and model for calculating development costs and affordable housing. I haven't played with it, but neighborhood advocates for the State Hospital project might find it a useful tool in walking through the actual economics of the site and prospects for some proportion of affordable housing.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

The most significant thing that you said in this post was that the City and State needs to engage the neighbors in a planning process. NESCA went through a process and came up with 9 princples that they would like to see in the redevelopment. DAS has not respected these recommendations on the rationale that the buyer decides how to use the land. This is what got us to where we ended up with the Blind School property.

Nothing has changed in this policy, so it would take some doing to get such a planning process for North Campus. It will likely mean a lost opportunity again.

The other thing that is good to note is that it is really fun to speculate on what could be..or even what should be...but there is such a thing as reality.

The redevelopment of the area around Market and Broadway was not a success for a very long time. In fact several of the original investors either went bankrupt or sold out? What we see as a success now is limited, but welcome. I do not know if it would have come sooner with more realistic plans, or if it was just ahead of its time.

Second point to being realistic is that without public assistance you probably can't build what you are suggesting. Over the weekend I watched a panel of experts talking about housing needs on CSPAN. They made a lot of very interesting observations including that we are way behind on meeting the needs of housing in all categories except high end single family residences. The reason being that it costs about $1.50 per foot to build and middle-income and of coure low-income people can't afford to pay more than $1 a sq ft in rent. So, no one will build such housing without government assistance. Even the mixed use at the Waterfront/Boise Cascade site could not be built without some assistance and I think someone told me it cost $1.25 per sq ft. So, it will be hard for middle income people to rent there.

If a developer built apartments in the size range of 800 sq ft (typical of a 2-bedroom apartment) he would have to ask $800 minimum and take a loss on the construction. So, the rent is likely going to be even higher.

Mixed use is desirable on many levels, but the people who live in area are not going to be enough to support a business. People who suggest this kind of thing need to learn a bit more about market analysis to know what is needed to keep a business in existance. And how could a small shop compete with the fact that Lancaster Mall is within walking distance already.

We need to be realistic. We need a good planning process. I am not confident that we will get either of these, but we can at least push for it.

The people I talk to are discouraged and won't even ask or push. They just complain. And so it goes....

Anonymous said...

"Mixed use is desirable on many levels, but the people who live in area are not going to be enough to support a business."

Who says that the people that live there are the only ones that will support a business. I support businesses in mixed use developments all over the state. I would like to support them in Salem but I don't have the opportunity.

"And how could a small shop compete with the fact that Lancaster Mall is within walking distance already."

Lancaster is not walkable. Its developments like Lancaster that cause Salem shoppers to go to mixed use developments in other cities to shop. Yes driving to other cities to enjoy walkable development is incredibly ironic, but its the only option we have.

We have an entrenched regime of government subsidies that have created a glut of single family homes and auto dependent shopping malls so its logical that some amount of government intervention would be necessary to correct that market failure.

There is a big difference between planning for the needs of the entire city and just giving neighbors want they want.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Susann, I think you overestimate how easy or attractive it is to walk from the area to Lancaster Mall!

I-5 is a huge barrier, both physical and psychological.

Crossing I-5 on foot along Center Street isn't very pleasant at all - hardly better by bike - and a few decent alternatives to the Mall at the State Hospital site would be a lot more attractive than you credit.

And like anon says, a walkable development will attract people from out of the immediate neighborhood.

There is likely much more latent demand for "good things" than you think!

Mike said...

One thing I would like to point out is how poor a "neighbor" the State is. DAS is so risk averse that they support autoist development over community building. 10 years ago the governor said we need shovel ready site for commercial development. DAS stepped up and volunteered there land near Keubler and so the Mill Creek Corporate Center was born. It is completely auto dependent. Of course a tanking economy put the brakes on it but it's still ready to be developed at any moment with the City's and State's blessing.

Then there are the parking oceans between Winter and Summer St near the Capitol building. If the city and State got their acts together these lots would be developed and all the small and or spread out government offices could be condensed leaving other underdeveloped in-close lots to be developed for commercial and residential. But DAS doesn't want to inconvenience all the state workers who drive.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Bikes... I lived in that area for 30 years and just basing my opinions on almost daily observations. People walk to Lancaster all the time from the apartment complexes in that area. They have no choice in most cases. They will use local businesses if their prices are competitive, but they won't go there if they feel that they can't afford it. That is why many locals do not go to the Fresh Market which is virtually across the street, because it is not competitive.

Sometimes people pick where they shop too because the business offers a shuttle. You can catch the bus to the store, and the store brings you home.

I have no idea how many customers it takes to make a person put in a particular business, but my guess is that it has to meet a market analysis of some sort. No chain is going to go up against all the others on Lancaster drive, unless they can prove that it will be successful. A few Mexican shops exist in the area but they work on a very slim margin it appears and I am not sure that they could survive if they lost customers. It has taken some of them years to get enough patrons to stay open.

I often hear talk about mixed use and what kinds of shops could go in and so forth. But it is just speculation if you don't do a market analysis. This is what is lacking here. Thus why we need a planning process that is realistic and inclusive.

Anonymous said...


Roth's and Lancaster: The two are not competitors. You can't buy groceries at Lancaster Mall. Roth's prices are not a reason why customers would or would not shop there instead of Lancaster Mall.

Roth's is 1 mile away from the State Hospital. Its well outside the walk shed for NEN/NESCA and with fast, overbuilt suburban arterials, the oceans of parking, and the absence of any cohesive urban form, its about the most offensive environment for walking imaginable. Yes there are people who must endure this because they have no choice and Salem should be doing much better for them by upgrading its built environment.

Re: market analysis

IIRC the Leland study did conclude that there isn't much of a market for neighborhood scale commercial. It and others have also concluded that there is a huge under served market for multifamily housing, which I assume based on previous comments you are equally opposed to. Are you open to facts that don't fit within your narrative? That's an important question for you to consider when advocating for a master planning process. It may not produce the result you want.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I do not project what will come out of a planning process, except some sort of sense of engagement by neighbors. It also might generate some ideas for potential investors. I have participated in a number of planning processes over the years. The plan that comes out is never 100% implemented. But what comes out is a sense that people are listened to. The thing is now we have a lot of people feeling ignored and disregarded. This eventually leads to some people just giving up and moving away or at a minimum loss of a sense of community and distrust of government.

As to shopping on Lancaster (not just Lancaster Makl), it would be good to find out where people do shop. Many people shop at Target because it now has groceries. They also take the bus to MegaFoods (formerly Food 4 Less) because you can get a shuttle your door. And then there is Fred Meyer. Yes there is some walking involved, but when you are poor, you make the trip.

I think you do not live in the area, or you would know some of these things.

Mixed use is good, but I am not lying in fantasy and wishful thinking-ville. I am trying to suggest realistic approaches so that the outcome will be less disappointing.

I am neither pro-or anti-multifamly. I was making the point that it is expensive to build low-or even modest-income apartments and then collect the necessary rent to get a decent return. It will likely require some government subsidy to get low-income.

But building high-end apartments in this location is not likely, because there is no incentive or local attractions to draw the renters.

Higher density is a likely outcome verses single family or low density because of the underlying costs of development.

BTW, do a little market research next time you are in a pizza take out place ask them how many customers they need a day. My guess is that if you built 300 units at this location, you will still struggle to stay in business. People don't eat pizza every night and going off the main street to grab a pizza on the way home from your commute is not as likely either when there are already 5 pizza places in the area.

What else could fit in a mixed use? I am open to suggestions.

Emily B. said...

I would love to see small businesses or mixed commercial/residential go in at that North property. I live in the neighborhood, and think this would make a great mini-urban/community center and hub... especially if we can keep the field as a park (North Field Park, anyone?). What if we built ourselves a main street: Imagine driving up D through the lovely green canopy, seeing a park stretch in front of you filled with soccer and rugby teams, and then on the far side of the park, a small-town main street stretching across 25th, with shops below and quaint apartments above, reminiscent of the 1950s era of the surrounding cottages and bungalows.

I walk and bike this area regularly with my husband, often trekking on foot to Target, but we frequently have to pause our conversation as long chains of automobiles go roaring past (typically faster than the speed limit instructs them to). I would love to be able to walk to a grocery store to pick up eggs, milk, or the occasional zucchini when the desire for zucchini bread strikes. I've considered my grocery walking options, and there is not an option that isn't closer than 1.3-1.5 miles away.

Let's use this as an opportunity to experiment with development that generates a greater sense of community - development that encourages lingering conversations over lunch sandwiches, ice cream after soccer practice in North Field Park, or a corner grocer with eggs and milk close-by. The options are endless, and I get excited about possibilities. Let's keep Salem talking about this project so it doesn't slip off the radar!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Salem needs people like you to speak loud and speak often for these things! Don't let the naysayers drown you out!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Emily, if you're not already involved with NEN or NESCA, consider attending meetings of the neighborhood association in which you reside and being a voice for a considered YIMBYism! (The interface is clunky but you can find the association boundaries and meeting dates and locations here at on the city's site.)