Saturday, July 20, 2019

City Council, July 22nd - Salem Heights and the Wren - updated

Very soon, it will be legal to put four-plexes on each lot of a new subdivision in land that had been zoned for single family residences.

Though we have a couple of years to make the code changes to bring Salem's zoning in conformance with the new State law, HB 2001, its passage and future impacts might be the best lens now for considering new developments.

Council meets on Monday and they will be reviewing a 34-lot subdivision on Salem Heights at Winola, "Wren Heights." Though it's a proposal for 34 single-family houses, now, it could be over 120 four-plex homes in 2022! Doesn't that have to change the way we look at proposals now?

Salem Heights at Winola, looking west:
No sidewalks, but lots of trees (2018)
Salem Heights here is still from old County standards from before it was annexed into the City of Salem, and it lacks sidewalks and bike lanes. The land in question is a large wooded parcel, and many neighbors think of it as a quasi-park or nature reserve. A development here also has a recent history of being a messy project, with a disputed ownership; a somewhat different proposal was at the City a little over a year ago and it was also contested. New owners are behind this proposal, but many of the objections are the same.

A new subdivision would create connections with Winola
and would also help avoid some of the steep hills here
(green = low traffic, red = the terrible stretch of Liberty,
from the Salem Area bike map)
Those who argue we should preserve the open space do not often account for the ways that open space forces things to be farther and farther apart. Open space has an autoist bias, and makes it more difficult to space things at convenient walking distances. Parks refresh the mind and body, but they also force useful things farther apart, and we should be careful about overdeploying urban open space as ornamental emptiness. There are two elementary schools very close, and Minto is just down the hill. This area is not likely underparked.

Rejoinders to much of the criticism during the last round remain in effect this time:
The transportation claims in the appeal are all about an exaggerated sense that 38 new lots [the previous project concept!] will cause a tremendous increase in traffic. It also focuses on problematic east-west connectivity for walking and biking along Salem Heights as a substandard collector street. (It's pretty rustic and rural!) It's true that Salem Heights here lacks sidewalks and bike lanes. But the real benefit in the project is not primarily any new east-west sidewalks or bike lanes. As it is, the old street cross section offers traffic calming. A new one with sidewalks will also be wider and zoomier. (Be careful what you ask for! It may be that existing conditions are not unambiguously inferior.)

No, the benefit is new north-south connectivity along low-traffic local streets....

So any argument about the development degrading walking and biking is specious. And while the upper estimate of 300-some new trips generated by the development might sound like a lot, they will easily be absorbed by the street system. Neighborhood bikeways are recommended for low-traffic streets of no more than 1500 trips per day, and collectors accommodate considerably more. 300 or even 400 will be an increase, but not a dramatic one.
With the proposed connections to Felton and Doughton, it becomes an easy bike trip down Missouri to Roth's for groceries. That's the lower-traffic east-west connection! So on balance I see filling in this wooded void with a road system offers many more benefits than costs on the transportation side.

Anyway, if the development now is not approved, the developer might just wait a few years to build plexes on it. It seems to me that even without current code changes, the future offered by HB 2001 already changes the way the Planning Commission and Council will approach NIMBY type criticism of projects.

We will see. Salem Reporter has more discussion of it at "Council to talk library's future, 34-lot subdivision on Monday." There's a lot of public comment, and maybe some new criticism will emerge; if so, we'll update here.

This at least gives the appearance of thoroughness
Then there's the Library matter. This will get lots of attention also. A lease approval for the temporary Library during construction is on the agenda, and the Human Rights Commission is concerned about the church that owns the building. Others have picked up the critique.

Here, it is interesting that the former Statesman Journal site, just across the street from the downtown transit center, had "access" problems? That would have been a great site! (And in a Belluschi!) There's more access there than at the current Civic Center site. Citing "access" is a funny critique of it - unless, of course, you mean by "access" only car trips and a parking structure immediately adjacent. Since it had a printing plant, I assume that freight access was not a problem.

It would be nice to have more detail on assessments. We know from the SRC that the City is willing to play fast and loose with facts sometimes in order to shape process to a desired outcome. We also know that the City Librarian has been very, very dodgy about her weeding project. So who would blame you if you looked at these site assessments and didn't trust them? Has the City analyzed them in good faith? Or is this another bogus process? More detail in the Staff Report would help.

Not very relevant here, but interesting nonetheless, are several proposed conversions of jobs from part-time without benefits to various fractions of FTE with benefits as part of a Pay Equity analysis.

And a few bullets:
Addendum, Sunday

In response to the appellants claims about Salem Heights being unsafe, the applicants hired a traffic engineer to respond.

They underscore that the roads will easily absorb the new traffic:
the proposed development will add 68 daily trips to an existing local street (Missouri Avenue S). This is well below the threshold [triggering a formal traffic impact study] of 200 daily trips identified for local streets or alleys. The proposed development will also add 204 daily trips to a collector street (Salem Heights Avenue S). This is also well below the threshold of 1,000 daily trips identified for collectors, minor arterials, major arterials and parkways.
More interesting is the safety analysis.

First, they show that the crash rate here - not count, but rate - is well below Oregon averages. So, relatively speaking, Liberty and Salem Heights is a "safe" intersection.

The crash rate at Liberty is below average
Then, its analysis of the benefits for walking and biking echoes what we already said. There are lots of benefits to new north-south connectivity. And they highlight something we didn't: The reason kids have to walk on Salem Heights is because there is no connection between Holiday and Nohlgren. With another connection, walking distances on Salem Heights will be shorter.

Agrees on a net benefit for walking and biking
But one thing the traffic memo didn't touch on is speed. In no place is an 85th percentile speed discussed. Many of the letters against the project refer to speeding on Salem Heights. Even without crashes, varying amounts of speeding likely contribute to a feeling of danger. While the road may meet strict definitions for safety, it probably feels unsafe and uncomfortable.

So what the road may need is traffic calming, not widening with sidewalks and bike lanes.

In the end, most of the criticism in the letters boils down to not wanting change.

But if questions about trees are offered in good faith, a thought experiment is whether people would be ok with some number of plexes deployed in ways to preserve the biggest trees to give a net increase in the number of homes, but a decrease in lot coverage? It could be possible to increase density while also preserving more tree coverage.

Addendum 2, Sunday

The Planning Decision on trees
Some of the "significant" Oaks along the street will be preserved as "future street trees." The whole approach to trees may not be ideal, but it's also not wanton clear-cutting.

Addendum 3, Monday

There's a bunch of new public comment posted, and some is worth a little comment.

One of the appellants claims a City speed study found average speeds of 32 and 35mph in a 25mph zone. So the 85th percentile speed would be even higher.

The approval process for this development may not be the right place to address this, but the City should address this squarely. Speed is a substantive problem here. It's not the count of cars, the traffic amount, it's the speed of traffic that's a problem, and neighbors are right to complain.

An appellant claims a speed study was conducted
So in this light, the appellant's proposal for a traffic diverter is interesting. The City should be installing more of them! We have hardly any.

A proposal for a traffic divertor!
And buried in a response from the applicant's lawyer is an interesting note about a planning standard we use. "Whether or not the development provides for safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access is an inherently ambiguous standard that cannot be the basis for denial or further conditions of approval."

Applicant's lawyer responds
Here's the original decision and the SRC on "safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access."

from the original decision under appeal
It may be that this is a gap in our standards that needs to be firmed up and closed. The squishy nature of "safe and convenient" access has been a problem before, and this just looks like it needs more attention.


Jim Scheppke said...

One site that is not on the list of sites considered for the temporary library is the old YWCA building on State Street that is now owned by Willamette and sits empty, I believe. It's a Belluschi and well worth renovating and reusing. How about if WU leases it to the City for $1 in return for the City using what they would have paid for the lease of the Capital Press buildng (nearly a half million) to do building improvements? That might be a win-win. There is lots of metered parking on State Street. Maybe the City could lower the cost for library users to what they are paying now in the library parking garage.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

That's a great idea for the old YWCA building! (Plus it's next to the old Carnegie Library, which you don't mention.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added notes on an independent traffic memo on Wren Heights for the applicant contesting the appellant's claims)

Ricardo Salem said...

HB 2001 is part of the trend dismantling Oregon's unique home rule rights conveyed in the Oregon Constitution. It set aside Oregon statewide planning Goal 1 confirms "citizen involvement" in local planning decisions.

In 2016 the legislature passed SB 1573. Presumably under the influence of real estate speculators' claims that more houses on the market will lower prices and make housing affordable (seriously). Over the years, real estate marketers and investors used the courts and legislature to quash the right to vote on some annexations won by referenda in 34 Oregon communities. SB 1573 denied the right of 700,000 Oregonians to vote on some annexations in their towns.

Believing the Oregon Constitution prevented the Legislature from amending city charters, citizens embedded the right to vote in their city charters. Since 1910, the Oregon Constitution protected communities from legislative interference. "The Legislative Assembly shall not enact, amend or repeal any charter or act of incorporation for any municipality, city or town. The legal voters of every city and town are hereby granted power to enact and amend their municipal charter..." Art XI Sec 2.

SB 1573 tore down that protection - SECTION 2. (1) This section applies to a city whose laws require a petition proposing annexation of territory to be submitted to the electors of the city.
(2) Notwithstanding a contrary provision of the city charter or a city ordinance, upon receipt of a petition proposing annexation of territory submitted by all owners of land in the territory, the legislative body of the city shall annex the territory without submitting the proposal to the electors of the city if:"

Notice that HB 2001 overrides local concerns and forces cities to increase "density" and deal with the unfunded mandates growth requires.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Nah, you've got HB 2001 wrong. It is visionary and consistent with our Land Use Planning laws! HB 2001 is a wonderful thing.

It will
- Improve walking and biking
- Reduce carbon pollution
- Increase housing supply and help create more affordable housing over time
- Make home-ownership available to more people

The "home rule" rights you reference have historically been used for exclusionary ends, and it became clear that action for more inclusionary aims required state-level legislation.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of missing middle housing and HB 2001 here are some articles:

- "Re-legalizing Fourplexes Is the Unfinished Business of Tom McCall"
- "A Duplex, a Triplex and a Fourplex Can Cut a Block’s Carbon Impact 20%"
- "Oregon Just Voted to Legalize Duplexes on Almost Every City Lot"
- a large photo collection of "missing middle" housing that shows how easily it blends into neighborhoods
- and here in Salem "1920s Deed Restrictions as Precursor to Single Family Zoning"

Additionally, Strong Towns has an extensive set of arguments that single-family zoning is more expensive than missing middle housing: Missing middle infill housing significantly improves the tax base for a city and requires less infrastructure to service it than new greenfield single-family housing on the edges of a city.  Couple of recent notes from there:

- "8 Things Your Town Can Do to Add More Housing"
- "5 Ways To Make the Missing Middle Less Missing"

Please consider taking a few moments to read these pieces and learn more about reasons for more missing middle housing!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In that link round-up, I should also have posted this piece in the LA Times, "Oregon vowed not to become California — and passed sweeping housing crisis legislation." It gives a very good comparative and even a little historical perspective.