Thursday, April 27, 2017

Design Review for 245 Court at Planning Commission Tuesday

Here's a nice, short thing to observe! The Site Plan and Design Review for the mixed use project at 245 Court Street is at the Planning Commission next week on Tuesday the 2nd and, as these things go, the Staff Report is brief, finds no problematic elements, and recommends a straight-forward approval.

Storefronts along Court Street
A screened parking garage area along Front Street
The whole quarter block from above
There's a five-story, 40-unit apartment block on the corner along Front Street, and a single-story storefront on Court Street and the alley. Along Court Street the apartment block has a leasing office and lounge. All the parking is in back or under the apartment block, and is accessed off the alley. Bike parking is split between private, secure storage inside the building, and public racking in the little courtyard between buildings. At the Court Street sidewalk the buildings greet the street with windows and activity, and the screened parking area is along Front, which is the much less pleasant sidewalk anyway.

Really, you couldn't ask for anything more. This is a terrific project for downtown. (Previous notes, including some history of the now-demolished Safeway building, here.)

The most interesting part is a request for adjustments on the set backs required on the borders of the parking areas:
Due to site constraints[,] providing a 5 foot landscape perimeter for the entirety of the offsite parking areas is not practical to allow for adequate and required off street parking for the residential units, additionally it reduces effective and efficient maneuvering for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrian[s].
Three places where a 5-foot landscape buffer
is difficult (or even dumb)
The project team request exceptions and adjustments in three places:
  • the open garage portions at the western property line along Front Street
  • the parking area adjacent to the rear property line at the northern edge of the site
  • and for a 2’ 10” wide strip interior to the project where the open garage and parking lot meet near the North property line
In all three cases the Staff Report finds that "The proposed adjustment conforms to [the relevant] approval criterion." Which is good. Because it would have been pretty dumb to find against them!

This, though, is a place where the spirit/intent of criteria are explained and the proposal measured against that spirit/intent, rather than literally and strictly. There have been other instances where the City has seemed to refuse to find the spirit/intent, or has situationally adopted a very minimalist interpretation of spirit/intent, and instead used more strictly literal or even tortured interpretations of criteria.

When the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan has a policy like this:
(12) The implementation of transportation system and demand management measures, enhanced transit service, and provision for bicycle and pedestrian facilities shall be pursued as a first choice for accommodating travel demand and relieving congestion in a travel corridor, before widening projects are constructed.
The City has too often - famously with the SRC! - sought to explain away the need for "implementation" of real measures as "a first choice." Mere words and very theoretical future possibilities have counted as "implementation." (Gory details here, here, here if you want them.)

The ways that the City finds "conformation to approval criteria" has seemed variable, depending on political exigencies, then.

Maybe there's not a way out of this. Inflexible interpretive stances might not lead to better outcomes, and rules always have a context in a politics and history. But it is interesting to note on this particular project, the City used a flexible and common-sense interpretive approach. Hopefully the Planning Commission will concur and the project will elicit no meaningful opposition. This should be an uncontroversial approval for a very nice project.

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