Saturday, December 5, 2015

City Council, December 7th - Zoning and Encroachment

This was going to be more about the proposed demolition of Le Breton Hall, but that was pulled from Council agenda temporarily. So instead, maybe a few more general remarks, and then a couple of interesting zoning and conditional use questions.

Demolition earlier this year at the "Crescent"
That's Kozer Cottage (Fred Legg, 1920) with the mural
On the demolition, it's not like anyone is saying "save all the buildings!" Because plainly they cannot all be saved. At this site it is completely reasonable to demolish many, even most, of the buildings. And a lot of demolition has already been done. That's ok.

But because Le Breton is the oldest, it has the greatest historic value, and it deserves a much larger measure of care, attention, and effort. For the City to give up on it after just four months seems very premature. It may yet be necessary to give up on it, but that should have a time-line measured not merely in a few months. Did the City really think it was going to be quick and easy and not assign sufficient resources to see it through?

(Apparently the McMenamins already turned down an opportunity to redevelop the Dome Building at the State Hospital, and may not be interested in Le Breton, but in light our of own romanesque City Hall, this still seems apropos and a relevant if unflattering comparison.)
Bike Parking at Gaiety Hollow - Tempest in a Teapot!

So on the 25th of last month a formal appeal was filed on the question of bike parking at Gaiety Hollow, the home and garden of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver.

Detail from site plan above; red comments added;
bike parking standards from Portland added as insert
Here's the most recent discussion of the alley proposal, so we won't rehearse that here, other than to say that the alley proposal that's on the table simply won't work. It's not safe and there's not enough clearance. It should be disqualified from the start.
And the argument that bike parking harms the historic nature of the front yard is just silly. An elevator is far more intrusive!

But in the various official opinions and in public comment, there are some other interesting things to touch on.

More than anything, most people are talking about bike parking as symbol rather than bike parking as something a person might actually use.

For example, many consider parked bikes apparently as visual clutter, and with regard to the front yard location on the right of the driveway, the Hearings Officer notes:
during hours of operation, the driveway will be occupied by parked motor vehicles. These vehicles will effectively screen bicycles parked in the previously-approved location from view of the front yard garden area.
It is remarkable that parked cars are normalized and invisible, but parked bikes constitute an intolerable disruption to the visual and aesthetic field.

It cannot be size of the parked thing or the age of the technology that make the cars innocent but bikes guilty of disruption. So the bike must symbolize some other kind of disruption.

The age and permanence of bike parking materials are deemed relevant. The Historic Preservation Officer says:
a collapsible bike rack made from historic materials and located adjacent to the driveway as proposed...would not be considered a permanent alteration to the historic resource or intrustion into the historic landscape. The two alternative bicycle parking locations [on the alley or in the curb strip along Mission]...would involve a more significant historic impact by installing permanent features visible from teh rights-of-way and adjacent to a contributing resource within the historic district.
The vast majority of parked cars certainly won't be made of "historic resources" and the idea of "collapsible" bollards seems like non-secure bike parking. I think the Hearings Officer was aware of at least some of the irony here, as he remarks later about "parked automobiles, presumably of a contemporary, non-contributing vintage." (We need more humor in official reports and rulings, please!)

In comments submitted by the neighborhood association about a potential curb strip location, neighbors contend:
a bike rack in front of the house detracts from the residential nature of the Gaiety Hill Historic District and the RS zone. Neighbors were concerned it would be like a "sign" indicating the home was not a residence
But were the house on, say, Leslie Street, one block north, and cars were parked in front of the house, they would presumably not also function like "a 'sign' indicating the home was not a residence." Equally, at a home you might have friends stop by and where should they lock up when they visit? Bike racks in residential areas are not far-fetched at all! And what about those Little Free Libraries? Do they function as a sign? Or are they instead a splendid invitation to street life and sociality?

There's lots going on. I happen to think that Mission Street is in transition and that neighbors are engaged in a rear-guard action trying to deny this. While Gaiety Hill itself remains residential, slowly but surely the residences facing Mission Street itself are changing and it seems destined to be more and more commercial in nature. As an instance of this change, Gaiety Hollow seems seems extraordinarily low-impact and benign.

More deeply, there is throughout the appeal and the supporting arguments more than a hint of consistent bias against bikes and those who use them. If you switch bike/car in many of the sentences and arguments, you see a double-standard emerge.

I believe that what we are at least partially dealing with is a kind signalling and implied class-based argument. Car use now signals class, income, and respectability.

While this is an unfortunate subtext for a lot of debate about bikes, it is even less surprising here, as the whole appeal of Lord & Schryver is the way they took European models of formal gardens for the aristocracy and by an East Coast filter marketed them to Salem's up-and-coming gentry. We have to remember that they launched their firm in 1929 - and who had money in the early 30s to afford their services?

Though they are parks today, the grounds at Deepwood and Bush House were domains of Salem's very well-to-do. Up at the top of Gaiety Hill proper is the Jarman House.

If the Conservancy truly wants to "let the garden embrace you," and they mean all of Salem, then they will need equally to embrace more populist notions of access - and this should mean they embrace bicycling too.

Myrtle Card and Ernestine Levy in Salem, circa 1900
(Detail, Oregon State Library)
And there are resources - historically important ways that bikes and pioneering women are related. There are many creative possibilities here to tap into themes of sustainability and of early feminism. If the Conservancy would stop and think, there are ways also to embrace bicycling much more powerfully and usefully and integrate it with their overall themes.

An Interesting Zoning Case

Liberty and Skyline, Sunnyslope Shopping Center
Proposed apartment site at center
with reddish patch and cleared land
Probably the other interesting item is an announcement of an appeal on the apartments proposed for the former cannery site near Liberty and Skyline. The appeal hearing will be in January, so this is for information only at the moment.

This one is rather opaque! Staff recommended approval, but the Hearings Officer denied it. So the developer is appealing to City Council. At least part of grounds for denial is here. A difference in scale between small and big is at the center.
...the Hearings Officer ultimately finds the applicant has not met its heightened burden of persuasion in demonstrating that a change or changes in the economic, demographic, or physical character of the vicinity has occurred 'such that' the proposed zone change would be compatible with the vicinity's development pattern...

the Hearings Officer is not persuaded that it is logical to ignore the benefits gained by small-scale commercial retail, office and service uses compatible with the scale and character of adjacent single-family residential development... [or to] allow[] a large-scale multi-family apartment that intensifies compatibility issues related to current off-street parking issues, intensifies the loss of solar and privacy for the small scale residential development pattern in existence while providing no commercial services.

In short the Hearings Office finds that the applicant has not made the necessary demonstration that the proposed zone change is equally or better suited for the property than the existing zone.
This is not a clear-cut case on the merits, and so it is not surprising it will be reviewed on appeal. (For more see the previous discussion here.)

Because the dispute centers on a strip of land designated (in a very confusing way!) for "neighborhood commercial" uses, the governing interpretive context is not the commercial development along a major arterial - the Roth's, Sunnyslope Shopping Center, the DMV, the storage units, the Walgreen's. The governing interpretive context is the park and single-family residences to the east, and a notion of fine-grained, small streetcar-scaled business that might arise in the "neighborhood commercial" zone.

Quite apart from whatever legal and technical details are deemed relevant, on the surface and in a "plain language" way this should not be difficult. Liberty here is not at all "neighborhood" scaled, and has large-scale chain retail with large parking lots. There are strip malls. An apartment complex is not at all out of character, and with the proximity to groceries residential development makes good sense. The way the zoning question apparently shifts the governing interpretive context to the residential interior is at least counter-intuitive and maybe outright screwed up.

The more interesting matter - though mostly separate from the case at hand - is the way Salem basically refuses to use "neighborhood commercial" or the new "neighborhood center mixed use" zones. These are not meant to be used as a "buffer" from strippy stroads like Liberty here, as it was apparently used here back in 1997, but are meant to be embedded more deeply into residential neighborhoods to provide some basic and walkable neighborhood commerce. In this part of town, the right place for a "neighborhood commercial" or mixed use zone would not be near Liberty, but would be, say, at the intersection of Lone Oak and Boone Roads. Intersections of minor arterials or collectors where you can imagine an old streetcar stop.

But so far this concept hasn't stuck anywhere, and Salemites intensely resist notions of "commercial encroachment" on residential neighborhoods. (See above!) This means we are also stuck almost wholly with car-dependent residences and strippy commercial development on giant major arterials. If we want walkable neighborhoods, we have to start embedding things like "neighborhood commercial" more deeply in our neighborhoods. This is a significant part of the disputed questions at the North Campus of the State Hospital.

A couple of other Items

There are updates on downtown "opportunity sites"  for redevelopment and on citywide business and economic development activities, but they aren't very detailed and don't actually tell us much.

Two annexations, here and here, because of water sanitation problems.

Maybe you see something else of interest?

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