Friday, April 13, 2018

A Pasture under the Tree: City's New Park near Hillcrest and Fairview

On a hill just south of Hillcrest, there's a great old tree. Most everything has been cleared around it, so it stands out against the sky.

I don't think that's an Oak, but it's a presence on the top of the hill;
pasture at bottom by utility poles would be park
One of the park acquisitions on Council agenda Monday night showed a development that hasn't shown much of itself yet. According to the Staff Report it's had a formal "Urban Growth Decision," which imposed a condition of a park dedication, but that might have been a while ago, and I don't remember seeing any other Hearing Notices more recently (do you?).*

There are no great conclusions to draw here, I don't think. The area is a zone of some of the biggest greenfield developments in town, a large bloc of parcels in transition. Between the projects at 27th and Kuebler by the I-5 interchange, the Fairview projects, and any Hillcrest project, there's a lot of potential here. Even with some of the plans for Fairview very forward-looking, the overall development pattern may still look backwards too much to existing 20th century autoism, however. It's worth keeping an eye on. It is interesting, if nothing else.

It's also, at least until it's developed, a little picturesque! It's too bad the park won't be at the top of the hill instead of the bottom. (Just off the top of my head, I can think of many more parks in low lands along creeks than on properties with a view. It's easier to monetize the latter, so it's not surprising developers sell off the swampy parcels for public use.)

Just south of Hillcrest, park area in light blue
(I think the relative scale on the inset is still a little big!)
The park property is to the south of Hillcrest, across the street from one of the Fairview projects, and downhill from existing development and along the creek that parallels Reed Road.

Reed Road here is signed for 45mph, and Battle Creek is also very zoomy. The corner of Reed Road and Battle Creek lacks crosswalks and sidewalks. While sidewalks on Reed Road have generally been part of conditions for development and will be constructed by developers (eventually), I'm not sure that crosswalks have ever been included, and the City will need to plan for these - as well as for lower speeds, hopefully. The streets are "minor arterials," but they will be increasingly residential.

Reed Road in 2012 - still signed for 45mph today
Altogether this corner of Reed and Battle Creek is pretty hostile to people on foot and on bike, and does not seem very promising for a park that should attract kids. Since one of the projects at Fairview (at least in 2012) was going to launch first with a large multi-family compound with some neighborhood retail on a corner at Reed Road, this is not at all theoretical. Kids will also come from the adjacent single-family neighborhoods.

A big multi-family project across the street at Fairview (as of 2012)
(Reed Road on right, notes in red added)
Back to the present, one of the terms of sale includes this:
Seller also retains the right to sub-lease, or allow use of, the Property...solely for farm and cattle grazing.
There are in fact cows grazing on the land currently! That's a funny rural moment just down the hill and across the street from very suburban housing.

A pastoral scene!

You can barely see the contour lines for the peak and tree
It'll be interesting to see, I guess, how sensitive the development is to site. It could be very nice, or it could just bulldoze over everything. Hopefully that square at the top of the hill means the tree will be retained. It does appear to be a separate tax lot. (Maybe it's even a "witness tree." Hopefully more of the parcel's history will come out as Hillcrest next door is redeveloped. It's possible there's a little bit of history around that tree in particular. The 1917, 1940, and 1969 quads don't show anything on or near it, however. The school is the nearest point of significance.)

1969 topo map shows hill peak and creek - USGS
The proximity of this (not-yet-planned) park to the City's new planned park at the Fairview property and the in-process planning for the Park on Hilfiker is interesting. Reed Road itself and corridors internal to the Fairview projects could create a useful set of connections.

The Plan for Fairview Park, February 2016
According to the Neighborhood Plan just adopted,
Morningside is currently underserved by public parks, with just 12.28 acres of existing developed parkland contained within three neighborhood parks.... Existing park facilities provide approximately 1.4 acres per 1,000 residents, which is substantially below both the existing condition of 11.8 acres per 1,000 residents for the City of Salem overall, the national standard of 10-20 acres per 1,000 residents...and the goal of 7 acres per 1,000 residents set forth in the 2012 Comprehensive Parks Master Plan....
The Parks Plan calls for an "urban park" here
A map in the Morningside Plan shows an "urban park" here in the general area. The Fairview Park will be a "community park" (concept CP 3 on the map). Both of these are designed to serve a larger area than a "neighborhood park." I wonder if the Urban Growth Decision that required its dedication and sale to the City preceded by several years the action at Fairview. It may be that once we start a formal park plan, we will find different needs we wish to satisfy in a park. But having two bigger parks so near each other could create additive effects also. (And as low-lying pasture land near a creek, it may be swampy seasonally and have public value for stormwater detention and filtration that will adjust ways other facilities have to fit in.)

At the moment the Eric Olson Fairview Addition seems to be the only project that has continued momentum. New houses seem to start there at regular intervals. Hopefully the other developments will pick up soon. Even if these projects are not for any kind of "affordable" housing - and indeed some are pretty high-end - any additional housing stock helps to moderate the upward pressure in rents and living costs. As the single-family portion gets built first, hopefully that will create demand for the attached homes, "missing middle," multi-family, and neighborhood commercial/mixed-use pieces that are penciled in for later phases. And development here, and its traffic, is easier to tolerate than on West Salem's greenfields and over the bridges.

* There's a very brief note on the Morningside NA FB page, but it talks about the Urban Growth Decision only - which, in any case, was an administrative decision, and did not rise to a Public Hearing. They've also posted a set of slides from a walk on private property in the Fairview project, including "the Woods," which may end up as privately-owned public space between two of the sudivisions at Fairview.


Mike Hughes said...

According to the Marion County Assessor's property viewer, the square at the top of the hill is owned by the city. (Future water reservoir?) It's unfortunate the new development is all going to be single family housing, of which we have a large surplus, but at least they will now generate some property tax revenue for the city.

Rich T said...

I work in the Fairview Industrial park and go through that intersection often and it is very busy all day long and cars zoom up and down Reed and Battle Creek. I don't see how anyone is going to want to negotiate that intersection during working or rush hours and there's bound to be more traffic in the future with the building that is going on on the other side of Kuebler. On the positive side, with 22nd street now going through to Madrona, it makes that side of town more accessible from the north, also only during non-working hours.

Anonymous said...

Once again the best information on what is happening in the city is found on this blog. Thank you.
This looks like a neighborhood park which could also provide a corridor to the needed large urban park that is now Hillcrest Youth Facility. Hillcrest is closed and the state will put it on the surplus list. The large floodplain/field downstream from this park could be three ball fields, combined with the tennis courts, gymnasium and ample parking already present, Hillcrest could be the Urban park needed for this area. The park connectivity to the new Fairview Park and this park would make this a spectacular attraction for this area of Salem. The new bike/ped access along the SE side of Reed could be a multiuse path through these parks and along the stream.