Friday, March 11, 2016

City Council, March 14th - Hope Avenue Extension and Streaked Horned Lark

Council meets on Monday and there's quite a number of things to note. While they aren't action items mostly, they are interesting informational reports from which a number of potentially significant inferences may be drawn.

At the top of the list is a complicated squabble over an extension of Hope Avenue in West Salem. It seems like the subtexts here completely swamp the text, and it may not be possible to say what is really going on. If it weren't for the fact that the Salem Alternative requires an extension of Hope Avenue, this would be a purely local dispute, but since Hope Avenue is implicated in the biggest regional transportation proposal in a generation, it is important to notice.

Trying to summarize this seems treacherous, but here we go...
The Developer, River Valley Terrace, LLC (Rich and Stephanie Fry, members) the owner of real property located at 1710, 1740 and 1790 Wallace Road NW, and seeks to develop a multi-family development on the site. On July 11, 2006, the Developer was issued a Preliminary Declaration for Urban Growth Development..., [which] required the Developer to design and construct street improvements for Hope Avenue NW from Wallace Road NW to Marine Drive NW as a condition of development...

However, the Developer's property is encumbered by an access easement benefitting a neighboring property located at 1720 Wallace Road NW, owned by Gerald and Mary Johnson ("Property Owners"). The property at 1720 Wallace Road NW is east of the new Hope Avenue extension and does not abut Wallace Road.... the Developer must extinguish the portion of the access easement within the Hope Avenue Street Improvement, which is currently an encumbrance on the property.
After several rounds of negotiation to value the extinguishment of the easement, things are at an impasse.
[T]he Developer has met the requirement to make a good faith attempt to acquire the necessary property rights....

[Because] The Hope Avenue Street Improvement is in the public interest, is part of the City's Transportation Master Plan and has been planned, designed, located and will be constructed in a manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury [it is a public matter and]

If Council adopts Resolution No. 2016-10, the City Attorney will initiate condemnation proceedings following the procedures and requirements set forth in state law.
This is interesting. Did the buyer/developer not know about the easement at the time of purchase? This would seem to be a matter purely between neighboring property owners and not something requiring the City to step in. If the price of the easement can't be priced into the cost of the development, then maybe the development doesn't actually pencil out. Why exactly is the City stepping in? It's not clear how this is a genuine matter of public interest. What really is going on?

Hope Avenue extension at Wallace Road and Marine Drive
Additionally, the Salem Alternative plows right through the neighboring "Johnson" property! Things that are built today will be demolished or seriously changed if the Third Bridge is built as planned.

This is just impossible to read in a straight-forward, surface way. It seems like it's shot-through with subtexts rooted in the unofficial-official Salem River Crossing.

At least from here, it is not possible to say who might have the better case. But because the location participates in the current footprint of the "preferred alternative," and because this is apparently requiring City action in official condemnation proceedings, this seems worth watching closely.

There's a substantial update on the Boise Redevelopment project, and the prospect for the boardwalk or path along the creek seems to have encountered more rough sailing.
[T]he City completed a Structural Assessment Report (Report) of the remaining structure within the Creek Parcel in February 2015 to determine the current state of repair of the structure and the feasibility of using it for a pedestrian plaza. The Report offered two options: utilizing the entire structure as a plaza, or utilizing the northernmost 20 feet of the structure as a pedestrian connection. The report concluded the entirety of the structure is in poor condition and could not provide sufficient capacity to support a pedestrian trail and support the hydraulic loads during flood conditions in Pringle Creek. The Report noted that the northern 20 feet of the structure cannot be reinforced to support the loads necessary for a pedestrian trail....

Barriers still exist regarding pedestrian access around Pringle Creek and a desired connection to the southern end of Riverfront Park. Pedestrian improvements along the north and south banks of Pringle Creek beneath the Commercial Street bridge were recently completed by the City, but currently end at the bridge's western right-of-way line and are gated off. The southern gate does allow access from the South Block apartments to the east to meet egress requirements in case of fire. Beyond the apartments lies the Slough Parcel, which is owned by Mountain West. Neither the apartments nor the Slough Parcel are open for public pedestrian access. The gate on the north bank of the creek abuts the eastern edge of the City's Easement on the Creek Parcel, but the trail is not yet improved.

In the short term, it may be possible to construct a stairway within the eastern portion of the City's Easement on the north bank of the creek to provide a connection from the Commercial Street bridge undercrossing to the at-grade sidewalk along Commercial St. The western edge of the easement terminates at the BNSF railroad trestle; an undercrossing of the trestle is desired at this location to gain access to Riverfront Park, but will likely involve significant environmental remediation, substantial safety improvements, and lengthy negotiations with BNSF.

Alternatively, if a pedestrian connection to Riverfront Park along the north bank proves unfeasible via an undercrossing of the railroad trestle, an opportunity may exist for a connection along the south bank using an existing undercrossing of the railroad trestle. This option would involve acquiring an easement from the owner of the South Block and Slough Parcel as well as constructing a pedestrian bridge over the mouth of Pringle Creek between the Slough Parcel and Riverfront Park.
A couple of other bits has schedule information.
A pre-application conference for the North Block [nursing home] was completed on February 18, 2016. The Center is expected to be under construction in summer 2016 and complete in spring 2017. A separate 24,000 square foot office building set to break ground in spring 2016 is also being developed on the northern portion of the site
(It may also be worth pointing out that the "Multiple Unit Housing Tax Incentive Program" under which Pringle Square and South Block secured abatements does not require any "affordable" housing, so the fact that the market pushed up rents there is not relevant to the tax incentive program.)

This might be on hiatus...via Nathan Good Architects
There's also information on the downtown Urban Renewal Agency's potential "opportunity" sites.

One interesting detail? The Marion Car Park site is no longer (or perhaps never was) the quarter block on which the old and currently vacant parking structure sits. It is now conceived as the whole half block.

What does that mean? Remember the proposed building for the gravel lot on Commercial and State, across from Ladd & Bush and Pioneer Trust? Well, in this latest report, that parcel has been bundled with the car park site as a member of that "opportunity" site now, and this suggests that project might be on hiatus or even abandoned. But also now numbered in the aggregation is Scott's at 147 Commercial! That idea seems disruptive and makes me sad. I mean, if the City went forward with this, maybe Scott's could get a new ground-floor space out of it. But maybe also they would have to move. Since they are the lone viable business along this entire block face, they are vulnerable to being sandwiched by redevelopment in that way. (Has the DAB or Urban Renewal Agency even talked with them about this?)

The Belluschi bank is also a potential opportunity site, you may recall. It also has a couple more tax lots aggregated with it.

It looks like the Urban Renewal Agency is trying to package up full half-block parcels. Even though Salem could use more mid-rise development, quarter-block lots seem plenty big for that and would yield appropriately fine-grained redevelopment. Full-half block redevelopment templates threaten to yield "big box" forms instead, and I worry about this trend.

You know that project management trope: You can choose two of three, cheap, fast, and good. I worry that this thing could be biased towards "cheap and fast" rather than "fast and good" - or, heck, "slow and good"!

So this is something to watch.

Other stuff

A couple of things out at the Mill Creek industrial park continue to suggest it is not a good investment and will over time be a drain on the City rather than a net positive asset.

Streaked Horned Lark - via ODFW
(Yup, a critter post.)
The City asks about the "use of up to $80,000 of Plan funds for the installation of silt fencing to discourage nesting of federally listed threatened species, the Streaked Horned Lark, on Phase lA of the Mill Creek Corporate Center?"
The Lark prefers large tracts of disturbed land with little to no vegetation. The Phase lA site was recently filled to prepare for development on the site. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the project consultant, Pacific Habitat Services, recommend that the City and DAS install silt fencing on Phase lA prior to Lark nesting, which typically begins in mid-April. The silt fence is intended to disrupt the large open nature of the Phase 1A site and discourage Larks from nesting prior to and during construction activity.
This seems unfair, strong evidence that we should prefer more urbanized sites, those already disturbed and serviced with infrastructure, for industrial and office park development.

East of Kuebler, the Mill Creek Corporate Center
and Salem Renewable Energy and Techology Center
 are remote from anything except the interstate.
With this, the Urban Renewal Agency asks whether to
change the existing City of Salem Enterprise Zone boundary to include approximately 57 acres identified as Phase 1A of the Mill Creek Corporate Center in the Mill Creek Industrial Park Urban Renewal Area?
This allows for
a temporary, three to five year (depending on the level of investment), property tax abatement for eligible firms.
It seems likely these are moves, maybe even desperation moves, prompted by the news that Woodburn is working on an industrial park.
Bullets for the rest:
  • Council is moving forward on the drive-through for MAPS at High/Broadway and Division. It seems like a worthwhile compromise. (See here for more.)
  • The Historic Landmarks Commission has an annual report
  • City Council overruled the Hearings Officer to allow an illuminated clock at the Hospital. Procedurally this might be interesting, and it seems like there might be grounds for appeal. On the other hand, Council seems to have landed on the common-sense outcome to permit a clock. This may be a place where the rules about signs don't lead to the most reasonable outcome. It wouldn't be surprising if this matter returns in one form or another.
  • There's a Reimbursement District for improvements at 36th and Trelstad, associated with the new State Police facility. "Reimbursement districts allow the developer to recoup some portion of the cost of construction of the public improvements from the neighboring properties that are benefited by the improvements." This is just something to file away. These are not frequent, but there have been a couple other of these in past few years, and at some point it may be useful to look at the pattern of them to see if they really do benefit the public and to see if infrastructure costs really are being apportioned fairly. The suspicion is that in a net way they siphon off resources from the central city and reallocate them to the periphery in a way that increases future deferred maintenance obligations - that is, that they are not sustainable.
  • The Urban Renewal Agency has its quarterly update about "Economic Development." But it doesn't appear to have any useful detail.
  • There's also a loan deferment and amended agreement on a redevelopment near Portland Road and Lana Avenue that involves Urban Renewal funds. In light of the Portland Road corridor project, this seems worth registering. (Maybe folks in the North Gateway neighborhood will know more about this?)
That was a lot of small things! Do you see something else? There's quite likely more worth comment.


Anonymous said...

Love Salem says that the nursing home is going to replace a facility in Silverton, and that the Silverton one will be closed.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Regarding he Hope Street case, I have reviewed all of the public documents in an attempt to understand the situation as well. Here is what I learned. The Fry property is owned by the current chair of the Salem Planning Commission. Hmm...A decade ago when the original project was submitted for approval a stipulation was included to gain access directly to Wallace Road. They did not do it then. Instead they went off and got approval from Public Works for a temporary access via another 'construction road'. Hmmm...Also, at that time Fry was required to either build Marine Drive or put funds into an account for when the city did the construction. Fry did neither. Hmmm...Then in a letter from PW director, Tim Gerling, all of a sudden that condition disappears from the record. Hmmm...The apartments are under litigation by residents in the subdivision. In spite of that the judge did not put an injunction on the apartments and the city has issued permits. Although not for the required landslide study, or cut and fill, or several other things. Hmm...

So, I will testify on Monday about the missing funds. Seems that without any paperwork specifically dismissing them, they should still be a condition the city can enforce. And that Hope Street needs to be extended from Wallace to the Johnson property (not allowed a 90 degree turn thus taking away their access) because 1) it is part of the City's master plan for Hope; 2) denying access to the Johnson property would constitute a hardship and possible legal action as a takings. The Johnson's have access in theory through Crooked River Road (where did that name come from I wonder? should clearly be and extension of Hope Avenue) but the topography of the area makes it very difficult because there is a gully there. It would be very expensive for the Johnson's do build a new road there. This again would be a reason to sue the city.

All in all a very complex and strange case. I find the staff report very lacking and that makes me wonder too why the City is at this point of condemnation when the answers are not that hard. Just turn the case back to Public Works with the stipulation that Hope Avenue be constructed as if it will go through the Johnson property as intended for year and then collect the Marine Drive money.

Unless of course, no one at the City actually thinks that the bridge is going to be built anyway.

Another question...if there was enough money left in the street bond to buy property in the Highland area, but that was rejected why isn't it being applied to Marine Drive now. Wasn't that in the actual bond?

Your senses are right! Thanks for bringing up this issue.

My hummer is getting awfully loud. I hope other people will get to looking into this issue.

Unknown said...

It seems like this should possibly be a subject for the city's Board of Ethics, in regards to the Hope St item.

On that topic I noticed the Board of Ethics has six place and three of them are vacant currently. Doesn't seem good, considering that Ethics should be one of the most important boards in the city. Also the mayor gets to make all of the appointments, isn't that a conflict of interest if the Board of Ethics is supposed to be reviewing city and presumably councilors decisions?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The first packet of public comment posted to the Council agenda contains quite a bit about the Hope Avenue matter, and references documents back to 2003. Things look problematic from a number of different angles and interests. It's hard not to conclude that "something's not right here."

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Well, the hearing was more of the same obstruction of clarity. Legal counsel admonished the Councilors at the beginning of the process not to stray beyond the narrow question of whether the applicant had met the criteria of good faith effort to purchase the right of way.

The elderly Mr. Johnson could hardly hear what was being said and in spite of having someone who tried to make it clear he was unable to hear, the Council just babbled on.

In the end they voted to move forward with the eminent domain process.

It was pretty clear that they did not understand the details of the land use case, but it did not seem to matter. One councilor even went so far as to try to discredit the property owner by suggesting that this was only a matter of "two strong personalities bumping heads."

I encouraged the Council to take some time to look back over the case and to at the least require that Hope Avenue be extended east to the Johnson property so that at some future time that street might be extended, if not to Marine Drive, at least to connect to Crooked River Road. They did not seem to make the connection of why this was important.

Staff did it's best to not give additional information that might be helpful to understanding the issues. Peter Fernandez seemed to be distracted throughout the proceedings, but he did perk up to say that Hope Avenue did not need to be connected to Marine and that it was just a sketch and not adopted into the street plans. I have no clue what this means about the 3rd Bridge or even Marine Drive's future.

There was no interest in recovering the funds that should have been collected for Marine Drive.

I wonder if the Johnson's will appeal to the courts or just try to get something out of the whole process.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the update. The whole thing is rather strange.