Monday, April 2, 2018

State Street Study at Planning Commission Tuesday

The zoning and street concepts generated by the State Street Study are going before the Planning Commission tomorrow, Tuesday the 3rd at 5:30pm, and the boo-birds are out. It will be interesting to see just how much criticism the Plan attracts and how forceful it will be. (Agenda and Staff Report)

If State Street were fully built up, some winter shadows
might fall on the south side of Court Street
Earlier, an architect recently moved into the Court-Chemeketa Historic District submitted comment to City Council. They offered several very detailed criticisms of the plan and the process, and generally seemed to want to delay it, hoping perhaps to invoke a higher level of federalized process. In particular, they want lower building heights on State Street:
Shadows on properties where the owner wishes to harness solar power to save monies on utilities could have a significant financial impact on the ability to save monies and/or make the decision to make a capital investment for solar equipment. Although there is no right to light statutory framework within Oregon, it seems that before something is going to reduce a property owner's ability to conserve electricity, an analysis should be made. Under the current zoning, such information could be weighed in by the Planning Commission in deciding whether or not to approve a proposed project and/or propose mitigation measure, but under the proposed zoning, an administrative approval could be issued and then the property owner would have secured rights to eclipse a neighbor's property risking disputes and potential claims and litigation....

Since the proposed zoning changes will permit, by right, 55 foot tall buildings and potentially cast significant shadows into the National Register District located north of the State Street Corridor, causing a change in the character of the District's use or setting and introducing incompatible visual, atmospheric, or audible elements; we request that a Section 106 review be conducted. We further request that the City of Salem Historic Landmarks Commission be designated as the consulting party for the City of Salem and that neighbors directly affected or the North East Neighborhood Association (NEN) also be designated a consulting party.
This is interesting because an important element in opposition to the Salem River Crossing has been stalling afforded by the requirements of process. So you might say "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." But here the process is still unfolding, and the stalling on the SRC was necessary only because the process was so profoundly flawed. It was a tactic of last resort. Since the process is still unfolding here, and since the proposed changes are nowhere near as monumental as the SRC, this seems like a disproportionate response.

In any case, this is a problem with historic districts generally: Too often they are used to hold other projects hostage and, by means of an ahistorical notion of neighborhood stasis, to thwart the reasonable development of a city. It cannot be said often enough: The Court-Chemeketa Historic District is itself the product of historical development, and it contains several layers. Some houses even were moved, and do not occupy the land on which they were originally built. The main period of relevance is 1860-1918, mostly pre-automobile, and cars, garages, and driveways, even paving, are all secondary "intrusions," and we have silently accommodated them. But they, more than bad remodels, have diminished the "integrity" of the District. Any such "integrity" is in important ways a fiction and sometimes it is used to hinder reasonable projects.

To the question of shadows, the City's formal response is that the current zoning condition is actually more permissive, and the proposed changes more restrictive:
The vast majority of these properties are currently zoned CO. In the CO zone, the maximum height allowed is 70 feet, with no additional setback based on height required....That means a 70-foot office building could be constructed in the CO zone on State Street today. Such a building could potentially cast a longer shadow on the adjacent historic district than a proposed 55- foot-tall building constructed under the proposed MU-I zone.
That seems decisive.

On the Section 106 element, Staff says
Section 106 is intended to review brick and mortar projects that are federally funded. This planning project is a study and not a project to develop a property. A Section 106 review cannot be requested without a federal nexus within a development project. In addition, ODOT has a programmatic agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) that specifically exempts planning studies/projects from Section 106 review.
It was interesting to learn about this general exemption, which also seems decisive.

Another element of criticism focuses on traffic and those annoying "bicycle warriors." On social media on a Third Bridge booster page, bike lanes have really become the lightning rod:
[The downtown bike lanes on Church and High] is the dumbest change I’ve ever seen. The bicycle warriors are out of control. So glad I don’t work downtown anymore.

Wait until you see what they are planning to do to State Street. They are bringing the "Road Diet" to Salem and taking out a car lane in each direction so we can have some big beautiful bike lanes! Doesn't that sound like a fantastic idea for one of our major east/west arterials?! Of course this is not an accident. The plan is to make it difficult to drive.

who approves this? High street across from the courthouse down to trade street is awful with the giant “bike highways” that are barely used. Backing out of parking spots is very dangerous, it’s difficult to turn. Why don’t we have a say in what is happening?

we need a bunch of people to come out and speak up for common sense. Unfortunately, too many of us sit at home while the activist who want to force us out of our cars get on the Planning Commission and City Council, hatch ridiculous plans and get them through while we go about our lives. We must be involved or they will do this stuff.
There's a real messaging failure here. The City's rhetoric should have moved away from "road diet" by now and used something like a "4/3 safety conversion." The Austin report used "right-sizing," but that's awful Brave New World corporate-speak. At the moment, a "4/3 Safety Conversion" seems neutral and the most accurate - it says what it is and what its purpose is. The project is too concerned with congestion and levels of service, and not enough with safety.

We're not trying very hard to "decrease reliance on the SOV"
More generally, though, the City is not directly embracing its policy and instead is trying to have it both ways. Its policy is to "decrease reliance on the SOV" and yet we seek to increase reliance on the SOV by means of things like the Congestion Relief Task Force, widening on Kubler, intersection enlargement on Wallace at Glen Creek.
The rhetoric of critique is also fear-mongering: No one is trying to "force" people out of their cars. The policy is to offer better options, to be able to move people by multiple means, and not to have them feel like the only realistic option is to drive. It is to get away from our compulsory autoism - the "reliance" on the SOV.
It has become increasingly evident that we can no longer afford—in a variety of ways—to “build our way” out of our transportation problems. As transportation funding becomes more scarce and the cost of constructing new facilities spirals upward, we must seek more creative solutions to meet our future transportation needs. We must make more efficient use of existing facilities and increase their overall capacity to move people and goods, not merely vehicles.
The Staff response to a separate public comment about traffic is a little weak:
The consultant team working on the State Street Plan conducted traffic analysis on the proposed street design, and it found that the intersections at 14th and 17th Streets would operate over capacity with delays and queuing during the peak period without mitigation. The consultants recommended mitigating these impacts by making intersection improvements at 14th and 17th streets (e.g., adding turn lanes). The City would improve both intersections to mitigate the impacts of the proposed street design. The detailed traffic analysis and results can be found online in the Tier 2 evaluation of street design alternatives. Staff recommended the “hybrid” alternative in part because staff does not expect it to significantly worsen traffic congestion or result in a lot of diversion to other major streets as could occur under the full “road diet” alternative.
As long as we accept that no future projects can "worsen traffic congestion" for people who are making drive-alone trips, we are committed to projects that promote more free-flow for drive-alone trips, and we will continue to induce more traffic by this strategy. We are not actually reducing reliance on the SOV.

This is utterly self-defeating.

via Twitter
On the merits, the project is may be not merely a "compromise," but even "compromised." The Staff Report touts it as "a context-sensitive design." That's a kind of euphemism for "timid." It's not so much sensitive to "context" as it is sensitive to "criticism" and to "fear." The City proposes second study following construction of the first part, but that would push off additional change for several years, maybe a decade or more:
The proposed TSP changes also includes a commitment that the City will evaluate the lane reconfiguration west of 17th Street a year and a half after it is constructed. The evaluation will consider measures – travel time/queuing, neighborhood cut-through traffic, safety, and property improvements – to determine what changes should be made to the street design. The goal of the evaluation is to extend the “road diet” to 24th Street if the findings of the evaluation support such a change.
Maybe this truly is the best we can do right now. But a problem with that is the benefits of the current proposal aren't so wonderful that very many seem likely to be very passionate about it. It will be interesting to see what kind of support builds behind it at the Planning Commission and at Council.

For more detailed comment on the State Street Study, see these main posts:
(For all previous notes on the State Street Study see here.)

The Planning Commission meets at 5:30pm on Tuesday the 3rd in Council Chambers at City Hall.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From the City: "The Planning Commission voted Tuesday to continue the public hearing on the State Street Corridor Plan project to May 1 to allow more time to hear and consider testimony."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The piece posted online to the SJ doesn't talk about safety at all. In terms of the road, it's a lot about the negatives: "disruptive traffic," "the design would whittle down the street," "worried about cut-through traffic if the narrowed road upsets drivers." On the other hand, it does talk about mixed-use and revitalization. I'm not sure the City's messaging framed the project in the best way. Critics have largely been able to frame the debate, and in trying to be seen as "responsive" to the neighborhoods I think the City and project team didn't get out in front of things enough.

Here's the first round of comment to the Planning Commission. It's 374 pages! The entire Court-Chemeketa Historic District Nomination is a little over 100 pages of that, and the resident behind the shadow study and request for Section 106 evaluation contributes another large chunk of correspondence with Restore Oregon, the State Historic Preservation Office, the history group at ODOT, and bits of other memoranda.

The Historic District is really being used for NIMBY sentiments and obstruction.

SESNA's comment, though, might offer an interesting compromise: Raise height maximums on the south side back to 70 feet, and reduce the maximum on the north side between 14th and 17th a little - that might take away the shadow problem and at least theoretically offer the same amount of housing. (The City's probably not talking enough about prospective contribution to the housing supply in a very walkable neighborhood.) This could be combined with a full-length 4/3 safety conversion as a compromise offering.

Once any materials for the May 1st meeting are posted, there might be more to say yet.