Monday, January 14, 2019

Apartment Block at 260 State Looks to get Historic Design Approvals

260 State Street birds eye view
(Marion Car Park on left, and Scott's Cycle in middle)
On Thursday the 17th the Historic Landmarks Commission will consider the project planned for 260 State Street, the empty gravel lot at State and Commercial. (Staff Report here, full agenda here.)

When an earlier note was posted to FB, it immediately brought talk about parking: The project must have underground parking, there's not enough parking, it's impossible without more parking, etc.

Our mania for subsidized, free car storage is the dominant interpretive lens for anything downtown, and even dominates in residential areas.

We have to interrogate and end this!

If we demand that land and construction budget be allocated to car housing, how are we ever going to create affordable housing for humans?! This is a real trade-off that people don't want to take very seriously, or want to wave off as something that can magically be resolved. But car parking adds to the cost of housing, whether it's downtown or in a residential neighborhood. If we want to reduce the cost of housing, eliminating mandatory car parking is an important and direct step. It won't solve affordability problems by itself, but it's an essential ingredient. (See these discussions of the cost of housing and ways to reduce it for Portland and Seattle.)

18 spaces on the interior:
A very small parking area behind ground floor retail
And indeed, this project is oriented for car-free and car-lite living. There is a small parking lot of 18 stalls on the first floor, tucked in under a second floor courtyard. The project will require creativity and exceptions in our usual parking requirements. It is likely there will be a separate policy or agreement that utilizes stalls in the Liberty and/or Chemeketa Parkades. We should also be talking about ways to utilize Riverfront Park or other surface lots during the nighttime when demand is slack. There are efficiencies to be found in cooperative offset sharing agreements. We have tons of parking! (Materials do reference an additional 130 stalls off-site. This will be an important detail, but uncertainty on that should not itself be reason to halt or delay the project.)

Our Swiss cheese downtown:
Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
The 148 homes are very small, most of them studio apartments. Again, they are specifically positioned for low-car living.

Typical floor plan - mostly studios, corners with bedrooms
NE corner detail (at State and Commercial)
The renderings may not be consistent. The Birds Eye view appears to show a vacant strip in the footprint of 129 Commercial Street, which is also owned by the same group. (You may recall that the City bought it and then the owners of 260 State in turn bought it.)

But some of the plan views seem to show the project abutting Scott's* and using the strip of 129 Commercial Street.

I think that the project will still end up before the Planning Commission for a separate design review and the footprint will be clearer then. This part is mainly about the building facade and mass and the way it fits into the context other historic buildings. (There are some other interior details to comment on at a site plan and design review.)

The Staff Report for the Historic Review is generally complimentary:
The applicant is proposing a six story building, and while there are a limited number of historic contributing buildings exceeding two or three stories within Salem’s Downtown Historic District, the Masonic Temple (Franklin Building) is seven stories, the United States National Bank Building (Pioneer Trust Bank) is close in height at five stories, and the Old First National Bank Building (Capitol Tower or Livesley Building) exceeds this height at eleven stories....While the windows are not of a form typically found on historic contributing buildings, the overall design of the proposed building generally reflects the tripartite form of historic contributing buildings in the District with an articulated base, column, and capital, with the patterning of the windows forming the vertical ‘column’....

Overall, the proposed design of the building is compatible with the Downtown Historic District.
It proposes only one condition, on archeology, perhaps interesting in light of the proclamation about the Treaty of 1855 at Council tonight:
The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office has indicated that there are two archaeological sites on this property and an archaeological permit shall be required prior to any ground disturbing activity on the property. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde have also contacted city staff and indicated the sensitive nature of the site(s). Therefore, staff recommends that the HLC adopt the following CONDITION:

Condition 1: The applicant shall provide a copy of the state archaeological permit authorizing the proposed ground disturbing activity on this site prior to issuance of grading and building permits for new construction.
Hopefully HLC will find no real problems and can send this on for the next step. It looks like a good project.

A separate matter at the HLC is the two Sequoias near 17th & Chemeketa. The Staff Report recommends affirming the denial of permission to cut down the trees. But clearly it's a matter of time. The denial is on a technical point: That the owners haven't yet submitted evidence that meets the City's requirements. But it will not be difficult to hire an engineer to compile that evidence, and that will happen eventually, this year or very soon. I read this as a procedural matter rather than about tree preservation policy, and not something that really demands much comment. See the Staff Report for more. Maybe tree advocates will have more to say.

* As a footnote, with the proposed hotel for the Marion Car Park area this block face is now facing a real step up in height and in intensity.

From The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
(See also this Strong Towns post for a sense of the narrative)
There's a classic children's book about this kind of thing. Perhaps unfairly, the tenements that go up around "the little house" in that book are rather dirty looking, and only the house and lawn is in full color. Intended or not, while the color is a way graphically to highlight the house, to make it pop from the background, it also makes possible an ideologically motivated comment on urbanism.

Here we should see it as more neutral: We have a housing problem, we have a downtown still hollowed out by mid-century autoism, and we have a lot that was empty for a long time after a fire. This project would be a restoration and repair to the downtown urban fabric.

But what then for Scott's? Maybe they will want to stay, maybe they will want to build a bigger building, but maybe they will want to move, and we should prepare ourselves for this. And they would deserve special consideration because of the longevity of the business. Just something to think about.

The first Scott's at 252 State Street on the alley at left,
between 1916 - 1918.
(Oregon State Library, notes added, date range corrected)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I can see a real benefit to having some housing downtown that is not car intensive. These are studio or one bedroom apartments, so likely for a single person. Depending on the rent, it might be a good solution for a Willamette student or a person working at the Legislature. And also perhaps an other single people who do not need a car.

But even if a person would need a car sometimes, there is now Uber or Lift and, of course, alternative modes such as the bus and bikes. I hear some people even walk! Being close to downtown I would think that the only serious issue is that there are no grocery stores close by, so you might have to eat out a lot!

But if you calculate what a car costs a lot to maintain....I estimate that with payments and insurance and gas alone it would like be a minimum of $4500 to $6000 a year.... a car is a huge expense! You can rent a car for trips, and Uber around town. That leaves the commute, if you work, to figure out, but that is still not an surmountable problem...remember that thing called carpooling?

I shake my head at my own household. We have three vehicle....and only two drivers. Most days I do not go anywhere. Twice a week my husband drives a couple of miles to volunteer at our grandchild's school. Yet we both have our own cars....although in my defense I did not ask for a car, my husband just decided he wanted a 'fun car' and won't let me drive it. Gas for both is less than a tank every couple of months.

And then we have a small truck. It was given to us and the insurance is very minimal, but we drive it less than 200 miles a year. Its sure nice when you need to haul something, and people like to borrow it, but still it mostly sits on the street waiting.

All the cars are paid for, so they are little monthly expense, but still, why do we have 3 vehicles?

I like the idea of such a development downtown. I just hope the rent is indeed reasonable!

Mike said...

It looks great. One idea I have though is why not have commercial space on the first floor that maybe could be occupied by Scott's. Then tear down that single stay building and put up a new multi-story building in its footprint.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It was approved per the Staff Recommendation with the one condition. They've published the decision already. It looks like it was regarded as straight-forward and wholly unproblematic.