Friday, February 5, 2016

City Council, February 8th - Marine Drive: Hinky or Helpful? - updated

Council meets on Monday, and they look ready finally to move on Marine Drive.

On the agenda is a report and motion to start purchasing property for Marine Drive in West Salem and bridgehead parcels in the Highland neighborhood on the east side of the Willamette River.

Back in the 2008 "Keep Salem Moving" bond measure (original project sheet here), $3.6 million was allocated for "strategic right-of-way purchases," but these have been delayed by the protracted process for the Salem River Crossing as well as concerns that work might illegally jump the queue in the Environmental Impact Statement process. These concerns seem to be resolved. The Salem Alternative alignment is sufficiently settled now, and work for the collector-sized Marine Drive as it already exists and is named in our Transportation System Plan would be independent formally of the EIS and therefore a proper thing to do now.

Several have argued that this work for Marine Drive would be essentially benign. Trail advocates argued that the right-of-way could be used for a soft trail that people on bike could use as an alternative to Wallace Road. No Third Bridge argued that the collector-sized version of Marine Drive would help alleviate congestion on Wallace Road and obviate any perceived need for the Third Bridge and perceived need to expand Marine Drive into a full OR-22 connector and expressway.

The position here has instead been that we should want to kill the bridge first, and then we can talk about a right-sized Marine Drive. To undertake Marine Drive now would be to initialize and arm a Trojan Horse that will be used to further the Salem River Crossing. It looks innocent, but just you wait.

Maybe that's alarmist hyperbole. Certainty is not possible.

But the fact that in this proposal the Marine Drive part is coupled with additional purchases on the east bank should at least prompt some additional hesitation and consideration by those who have though purchasing the Marine Drive right-of-way was by itself mainly harmless.

Marine Drive south of Cameo St inside our UGB (detail)
The report shows three places where the proposed Marine Drive alignment crosses over the Urban Growth Boundary and is outside of it. South of Cameo Street the proposed alignment is totally within the UGB, and that's where the proposed "opportunity purchases" would be located. The map doesn't show these very well, however, instead concentrating on the northern segments outside of the UGB. This means it can elide details like the impact to Pioneer Village. (Though the purchases right now may only be on vacant parcels or from willing sellers.)

There is also no map showing proposed "opportunity" sites on the east side in the Highland neighborhood.

The map in the report, therefore, is largely silent on what is proposed in the report.

What it does talk about is the tie to Second Street and the passage under Wallace Road. It's a little bit like that's the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

It all just seems a little hinky, that's all.

Other Items

An impenetrable thicket
Mostly other things just looked like details to note in passing.
  • The possibility of a second Railroad Quiet Zone on the Portland & Western line along River Road and Front Street. It looks like the City hopes to undertake the project without actually having to do much construction. By "using the Quiet Zone Risk Index methodology rather than by constructing Supplemental Safety Measures" I think they mean there's so little rail traffic, it's moving so slowly, and the non-rail traffic across the tracks is so little, that the crossings already meet thresholds for designation as a "quiet zone."
  • Council overturned the decision to deny the Pembrook apartments and added a couple of conditions, one of which looks to be a reduction in some buildings from three to two stories. (See previously here and here.)
  • There's notice that the owners of the house at 1811 Chemeketa are appealing the decision and specific condition that the approval for a Bed and Breakfast cannot travel with the property and instead terminates upon a sale. The owners want to put the house into a trust, and the condition will not allow them to do so. That will be interesting to read more about when the full text of the appeal and the staff report in response is posted. There may be more to say. (See previously here.)
  • The Legislative positions don't contain anything of real relevance here. 
  • Before the meeting proper, Council will hold a work session on the City Communications and Public Engagement study. The report is a little tepid, and I wonder if it is hampered by the fact that the subject of critique is also the client paying the bill. I wonder if a report commissioned by and presented to a third party, like the City Club or something, might be more incisive. 
  • Finally, there's the annual audit of the Urban Renewal Agency and an annual financial report. If you wanted a poster child for the problems with City communication and engagement, these might be excellent candidates. The audit document is completely opaque, a scan of a one-page report that gives the text of an unclickable url for a City webpage (you have to type it) that goes to a disclaimer and then requires another click, to a massive page of reports - and WTF was the report I was looking for? As I count it, that's six separate steps or layers. There is nothing, absolutely nothing user-friendly about getting to the audit. It's a briar patch of obfuscation! In fact, as I write this, I can't even find the audit. Here's a direct link to the annual report, which as I read the two staff reports, is distinct from the audit. It's not very user-friendly, either. The whole process here is confusing, a thicket of indirection and layers, seemingly designed to be impenetrable.
Update, midday

Whoops! Here's a substantial detail I missed. On the consent agenda - a bundle of actions regarded as unmproblematic and moved as a bundle so as not to get bogged down in discussion or introductions - is a proposed workplan and direction to staff to start implementing recommendations from the Housing Needs Analysis, which you might remember was part of the EOA-HNA, the Economic Opportunities Analsis and Housing Needs and Analysis. One of the very highest level conclusions was that we would need more multi-family housing in Salem.

Outline of Proposed Workplan for amendments from HNA
In order to accomplish this in the medium term, there's a five year project with several clusters of changes to code.

At the top of the list is making it possible to allow "granny flats," accessory dwelling units over your garage or in your back yard.

Detail of the "middle"
Opticos Design,
Item 2 is also a bit like a plan for the "missing middle" - and hopefully will learn from that conceptual scheme and make it even more robust than just duplexes and triplexes.

Another component envisions reducing required parking, which drives up the cost of housing.

This bundle will both address needs for a better supply of affordable housing and for needs to gently increase density as we transition to a lower-carbon city.

Each part runs over a year long, and will entail advisory committees and the usual public process bits.

Update, Monday the 8th

N3B has argued that the information sheet (the "original project sheet" linked above)
states unequivocally that bond funds would be used to purchase right of way for the 3rd Bridge ONLY after "a preferred alternative alignment is approved by the Federal Highway Administration."
And therefore than any "opportunity" purchases are wholly premature and violate the terms of the bond.

In response to citizen testimony echoing this, staff have published a rejoinder in a Supplimental Staff Report, claiming "the bond measure language does not require FHWA approval or issuance of a ROD prior to right-of-way purchases."

From the Supplimental Staff Report
Also interesting is a proposal for "affordable housing" whose required portion of Marine Drive construction would dead-end to nowhere - unless the City purchases an adjacent segment. (Though left unsaid is the timeline for actual construction on that segment as opposed to mere right-of-way acquisition.)

Some trail advocates will also testify in favor of a soft trail along the proposed Marine Drive right-of-way, but this continues to seem misguided and a help to the overbuilding effort. The bulk of the trail portion, however, would seem to be outside of the Urban Growth Boundary, and therefore not actually in play at this time.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with addition on the Housing Needs Analysis work plan

Anonymous said...

Funny, Strong Towns has a post on granny flats today -

"What if your town decided to use the definition of a house that is used by major mortgage insurers like the VA, FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac?

These mortgage providers consider 1-4 units plus 20-25% additional non-residential space to be a house, a dwelling. All these agencies have mortgage programs designed to finance what turns out to be a pretty wide range of building configurations."

Jim Scheppke said...

An information sheet that was widely distributed to voters prior to the 2008 Street and Bridges Bond measure election gave this "project description" of the "Strategic Right-of-Way Purchases for New Willamette River Bridge and Marine Drive NW':

"Purchase future street and highway right-of-way in advance of new Willamette River bridge and associated street and ramp connections, in order to preserve from future development, once a preferred alternative alignment is approved by the Federal Highway Administration."

So the City gave its word to voters in 2008 that right-of-way purchases would occur after FHA approval (Record of Decision) of the project. This makes sense. Why spend bond money on something that may or may not be approved? Now the staff is asking the Council to break faith with voters and go back on their word and make purchases in advance of FHA approval. City Council should reject this request that would harm the prospects of any future City bond measure passing.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I am a bit disappointed that the staff work plan to address the Housing Needs Analysis was not shared more publicly or at least with Neighborhood Associations. There was an opportunity to do that at last week's NA chairpersons meeting. Lisa Anderson, planning staff, had met previously with some land use chairpersons and indicated the desire to work with NAs. She also said that she would let us know when the work plan was going to City Council. The Director of Planning was at last week's NA meeting, but said nothing about the matter. However, there was talk about needing more open and timely information of land use matters by several of the chairpersons.

I hope that moving forward there will be more openness and more opportunities to be directly involved in the discussion and decision making processes. The issues listed in the work plan are significant and can have a major impact on the livability of our neighborhoods.

I have been trying to resurrect the old Land Use Network (LUN) that existed from 1992 to 2014, but when recently a request for meeting space for neighborhoods was rejected by the City staff, I hit a snag. I am sure we will be able to find a free place to meet, so that we can begin again to educate neighbors about land use planning and specific land use issues. It is our goal t engage Planning Department staff. But we shall see if they will engage with us. No promises were made when last we chatted.

The Housing Needs Analysis was not very inclusive of neighborhood associations, so at the implementation level it is vital that they are truly engaged in discussions and recommendations prior to their coming to a public hearing. Stay tuned!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with the supplemental staff report, which contests the N3B claim that ROW purchases should only happen after FHWA approvals.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Consistent with your point, Susann, in the second supplimental Staff Report, the Grant Neighborhood requests a postponement in order to put the proposal on a neighborhood association meeting agenda and enjoy a full discussion of it. The matter may not have even registered with the West Salem and Highland neighborhood associations.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Shoot, going too fast: The Grant Neighborhood request for a postponement was on the Marine Drive and Highland neighborhood right-of-way matter, not the Housing Needs Analysis.)