Monday, February 6, 2017

DAS Publishes Three North Campus Proposals - Let's Look at the Latest

Breitenbush Hall, January 2017
Recently, DAS published the three proposals that were rejected for purchasing the North Campus of the State Hospital. (The project website has several new bits of information!)
This is welcome and overdue. Now as we debate whether DAS was right to reject the proposals, at least we can have some real facts at hand about the proposals. (See for example the just published Salem Weekly story, "North Campus Historic Buildings Will Come Down.")

The only proposal that has seemed worth continuing to discuss, though, was the Chusal one. DAS can make a reasonable case that the first was premature, and the bare land proposal can still be in play or further refined after the demolition is completed. You might disagree, but from here these don't seem worth dwelling on at the moment.

Demolition plan for comparison
But what about the Chusal proposal, which would have retained all four of the buildings currently being demolished? That sounds like a great thing, right. On the surface there is good reason to give it a very sympathetic reading. It reused buildings and saved trees!

Chusal Concept Site Plan
(Click to enlarge)
So let's consider the site plan. (Comments keyed to numbered site plan.)

In the northwest corner, it keeps the park, and in the northeast corner (1) it proposes four rows of duplexes. 40 in all, plus another six just south of the park parcel.

In the southern half there is a mixture of office buildings and perhaps a few apartment blocks.

(2) One building in the southwest corner almost looks like a convenience store or drive-through restaurant or other mall-ish configuration.

And there's a whole lot of parking.

The sidewalks mostly connect to interior parking lots. (3) The buildings along Center Street, especially, do not appear to relate primarily to the sidewalk and instead relate to the interior parking lot. They are more suburban than streetcar urban in this configuration.

The proposal also contains two letters of friendly curiosity - but nothing like a commitment to lease - from Marylhurst University and Oregon College of Art and Craft.

Separately, a November 10th letter from DAS gives some of the reasons the proposal was not deemed viable:
The proposal...involved more than simple reuse of the existing buildings. It included very intense development of the remaining property. DAS consulted with the City of Salem departments of Urban Development, Community Development, and Public Works, and the discussion focused on what the proposers wanted to build. We felt the proposed site plan was generally unbuildable in the context of the Oregon State Hospital Historic District. Further, all the on-site and off-site infrastructure needed for a "bare dirt" sale was also going to be required for this proposal, without the benefit of Systems Development Charge (SDC) credits for demolished buildings. Many of the existing trees on the property would have been [also] removed with the density represented.
Certainly, when you look at the site plan above, it is rather intensely developed, and it is not clear how this would be different from the intensity that neighbors have criticized and feared. And like the DAS letter says, it looks like most of the trees would have to be cut down anyway for all those buildings and parking lots to fit. The scope of tree preservation is not so clear after all, and in fact looks dubious.

The concept is also primarily autoist and would not be pleasant to walk through. The site plan is clearly a drive-to destination, with a substantial focus on an "incubator for economic development with higher education occupants," a commuter campus, and not something that creates neighborhood gathering places.

(It is, to be honest, a little surprising that some neighborhood advocates seem enamored of the proposal, which doesn't actually seem to meet very many of their published concerns. Have they seen these plans? Or are they just responding to to "save trees, save buildings"?)

You may disagree of course, but from here it looks like the "bare dirt" concept and resulting development stands a very good likelihood of yielding something much better than this. Rather than wedging things awkwardly in between existing buildings, development of the "bare dirt" will afford a more organic disposition of space, building mass, and movement of people. There is a non-zero chance it will still get screwed up, of course, but there's a lot more upside with the blank slate approach.

This is why it continues to seem like demolition and redevelopment from a cleared site east of 25th Street, along with adaptive reuse for Yaquina Hall and the Dome Building, remain a reasonable compromise and offer the best chance - not yet a certainty, alas! - of a development plan that creates a vibrant, lovely, mixed-use place.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I hope your projection of what could happen to the North Campus area happens. However, I think it is still in the wishful thinking realm. The pressure is for more multifamily housing. We are seeing every nook and cranny 1 and 2 acre plots now coming into the Planning department. Two this month in ELNA alone. Both are at the maximum density of 14 units per acre for RM1.

Salem needs 200 acres of multifamily housing. So, I see someone coming along and just building to the maximum density in this area.

I'm putting this in writing and we shall see who ends up being right.

Unknown said...

The first Proposal, i.e. from Design Build Associates, was from an Economist, an Architect (myself), and a Design-Build specialist. All three have decades of experience as principals in large real estate development, including adaptive re-use of historic buildings, and multi-family development. Two of the principals are past presidents of the Salem City Club, and have the goals of helping to make Salem better. The Proposal for a Higher Education Campus with some housing and some commercial space, for businesses, restaurants, a pub, and a venue for community events and weddings, could have become a economic dynamo for this part of Salem that is half way between downtown and the commercial drive in strip of Lancaster Drive. Unfortunately the Proposal was dismissed by DAS officials, in collusion with the City of Salem, i.e. not the City Council, who were unaware, and un-informed, but by the mayor and manager, who both wanted a shovel-ready site, for what? Even the DAS official admitted to NESCA that the only land use that would work out there would be housing. By that it means RM-2 Multifamily zoning, which allows the typical 3 story apartment buildings alternating with large parking lots. This is what is being developed on the huge "Epping" property on Portland Road. That is what the market indicates, with a current zero vacancy rate for these units, that rent for $1.25 per sq. ft. per month, so put them out of reach of the lower income folks. This is what we can anticipate will replace historic buildings like the Belluschi building and others east of 25th. Street. We can only hope that the State and the City somehow retain some design control over the master plan and the design of these apartments, so it is not the mediocre, but is a quality housing development that is innovative, attractive, and is so good it puts Salem on the map for quality urban design and planning.