Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hearings Officer to Deliberate on Blind School Remand and Revised Site Plan

Over at SCV, or maybe in another place, you probably saw the news that the Hospital has submitted a new site plan in order to comply with the LUBA ruling on the number of parking stalls at the Blind School. The tone has been mostly jubilant.

New site plan with changes clouded

Previous site plan rejected at LUBA
From here, though, things seem much more bittersweet, much more than a little elegiac.

Basically the designers and client - who knows who actually directed the decision - just took the southeast quadrant and chopped the parking component in half.

It doesn't seem like a very thoughtful solution, and it might even be an outright lazy one.

They waited too long, let too much get already constructed, went too far down one decision path, to be able to reconfigure the whole in a more sensitive and and more interesting way.

Plenty of room (compare site #4 to clouded area at top)
And in the end, there was plenty of room for both Howard Hall and the playground and the trees, and also for a good bit of parking.

Prevailing at LUBA and its subsequent appeal was a tremendous effort by SCAN and tenacious neighborhood advocates. There is a real chance it will have significance in future land use decisions and will prove valuable in other ways. They deserve great thanks and praise.

But the outcome at the Blind School itself is something of a Pyrrhic victory. It's still mostly just a big dumb parking lot, and the valuable goods of Howard Hall and many of the trees are still lost.

More may yet be lost.

The "tree protection plan" (p. 12 of 24) is from a set of submittals dated August 25th.

Tree Protection Plan, August 2015
It appears to show the large oak at the center of circular courtyard of the new rehab building. But this oak was cut down in June, as construction had almost certainly harmed its root system and made it ill or worsened an existing condition. It is not clear that this "plan" is a very effective one. Its goal might be more to satisfy permit conditions than actually to preserve trees. There are reasons to be skeptical of it. And construction activities already well underway might have fatally compromised some the trees already, even if new protection for the trees is instituted going forward.

Driveway looking west from Winter St, August 2015
Oak on left appears in tree protection plan
Finally, as talk about homelessness in Salem continues to be more serious, it is worth considering the differences in the way we guarantee housing for cars, but do not extend the same care to people. We have inclusionary zoning for cars, vast tables of mandated car parking requirements for every kind of development so that cars don't spill "excessively" into the public right-of-way. But we show much less care to provide alternatives for people camping in public spaces. Free homes for cars - that's practically a right. Free home for your person - sorry, can't help you buddy. The comparison isn't a strict apples-to-apples of course, but there's enough overlap to show our values and policies deserve a radical reassessment. When cars trump people, both at rest and in motion as they so often do, something's not right.

Back to the Blind School parcel, while there is an opportunity for public comment on the revised plan, there will not be a new hearing and the scope of the decision will be very narrow. From the City:
Salem Hospital has requested that the Hearings Officer issue a final order on a revised site plan, which has been modified to be consistent with the Land Use Board of Appeals opinion, which required the provision of no more than 189 parking spaces and, in turn, eliminated the need for the [tree] variance, preserving all remaining significant trees onsite in their current location.

The scope of the remand proceeding will be limited to determining whether the revised site plan complies with former SRC 133.100(b). The Hearings Officer will issue a final decision on the revised site plan based solely on determining compliance with this criterion. Testimony that is not related to this limited issue on remand will be rejected. All written testimony must be received no later than November 23, 2015 at 5:00 PM.

For the whole Blind School saga, see posts here. The City has compiled the land use decisions and appeals as well as the revised site plan here.


Anonymous said...

Even on the City website they refuse to acknowledge the LUBA decision and their judgement that the City erred in interpreting its own development code:

"A petition for judicial review of LUBA’s decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals was filed by an intervenor in the LUBA case; Salem Hospital cross-petitioned for judicial review. The Court of Appeals affirmed LUBA’s decision on the petition and cross-petition."

This includes the city's argument that lots can be agglomerated for the purpose of calculating parking requirements. LUBA found that there was no basis in the code to support such an argument.

This was also a limited land use decision which was not reviewed by city council. Limited land use decisions are supposed to be administrative in nature where the discretion of staff is supposed to be extremely limited with regard to interpreting the law. It just makes you wonder how many other liberties the city has taken that the public didn't catch that have set Salem back.

It takes me back to the people v. policy question. Salem has enlightened policies in place like maximum parking requirements, but we don't have the people in City government that believe in enforcing them. They can either view the policies as an opportunity to improve Salem and make it a better place or they can treat them as an obstacle that needs to be overcome to deliver private interests what they want (short term private benefit vs. long term public good).

Until that dynamic changes, this is just a pyrrhic victory, and Salem will continue to lag behind the rest of the state.

Anonymous said...

Agree this victory is great on the level of neighborhoods not giving up and fighting for the community. Sadly the victory was not in time to save the trees. Very poor process indeed!

However, another State and City fiasco is slowly making its way through the northeast part of Salem with the North Campus of the State Hospital. If the State had handled the Blind School property correctly, we might not have this Salem Hospital situation.

It is not clear that anyone learned anything from this experience when we now turn to the State sale of the hospital grounds. They plan to either sell the property as is for $4.5 million (not likely we are told); or demolish all the buildings on the east end for $8.6 million in order to sell it to a developer for perhaps $4.5 million.

NESCA neighborhood association does not seem to be working very hard to protect the assets of this property to their neighborhood. Not that some neighbors do not care, but that they are getting circumvented by bad process and weak leaders.

I am hoping that NEN will perk up and claim the area more effectively to ensure that 1) the maximum number of healthy trees can be saved; 2) open spaces can be preserved; and 3) whatever is built on the property that it be something that enhances the community.

So far the plans are scant and no guarantees that anything that the neighbors would welcome is going to be respected. Even the open space that was offered to the City as soccer fields may not happen. Bureaucracy is trying to make the cost so high that even virtually free land is expensive. If not a park, this land will be sold for either more offices or multifamily housing.

SCAN had wonderfully empowered citizen who were willing to take a stand and work for their neighborhood. Unfortunately the North Campus area is not so endowed. I fear too many people are just going to be rolled over or they will look to move away.

Perhaps it is to the point that others in Salem need to step up and fight for this valuable property rather than just leaving it to the locals. Afterall ALL taxpayers invested in this property, so we have a dog in this fight too!

You can be sure that if the mayor's plans for apartments with some mixed use comes to pass, traffic and cars need to be a big part of the discussion.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

RE: State Hospital North Campus.

In general terms, while I share some concerns about the project, I do not share the sense of alarm or agree that it is clearly already a "fiasco." Most notably the plan and broad agreement now is to preserve Yaquina Hall and the Dome Building. So already there is more effort for preservation than there ever was at the Blind School, where the Hospital from the start wanted to demolish Howard Hall.

There are other differences, too. If you are new here, you can read more thoughts and several posts on the project here. It's an important project as you say.