Monday, July 1, 2019

Middle Housing Missing No More! And New Fairview Plan - Updated

In that Epic On-Off-On Charlie Foxtrot of a day, the Senate yesterday passed HB 2001 legalizing small plexes and other middle housing. It had already passed the House and looks to be signed into law.

via Twitter and full piece at Sightline
This offers meaningful direction to Our Salem, the process to update the Comprehensive Plan, and just simply takes maintaining current exclusionary zoning off the table.

There will be details we haggle over, and Salem itself will determine how much we embrace the new rules. There will be ways to make building middle housing easy, or ways to offer administrative friction and make it difficult and costly.

But there will be a new framework for the conversation and debate.

The Woods at Fairview

Meanwhile, and overtaken by the news on HB 2001, the latest phase of the Fairview project is going to be at the Planning Commission this month. The City's posted a Public Hearing Notice for "The Woods," a wedge of wooded land inside the Olsen Communities Fairview Addition. Olsen is not buying the land, however, and the resulting arrangement is a little convoluted across several dimensions.

"The Woods": Big lots, big houses, big trees

From the proposed Refinement Plan:
The overall design of The Woods Refinement Plan was motivated by a desire to preserve the natural topography and tree stand while creating an economic model in which the property can be developed....

The Woods is designed to further accommodate the Fairview Master plan, which shows the subject property preserving many existing trees on the site with special attention to significant oaks. The low density housing provides a compatibility with the adjoining land uses by emphasizing a sustainable, residential community while integrating substantial preservation of the tree stand.
Fairview Addition concept in 2014
The Woods is that brown wedge of 14.2 acres
You can see the way Fairview Addition wraps around "The Woods" parcel, but apparently it will have separate ownership; a need to be same-but-different makes for a set of tricky rhetorical moves:
Because The Woods does not satisfy the minimum size requirement for Refinement Plans (minimum 40 Acres) dictated by the Zoning Code, The Woods Refinement Plan of 14.2 Acres, while standing alone, is considered in many ways as integrated (nested) into Fairview Addition West and the larger community. Therefore, many of the principles overlap and The Woods and Fairview Addition West ultimately complement each other. For this reason, we refer often to both Fairview Addition West and The Woods collectively as The Greater Woods neighborhood which honors the spirit of the Code-to design cohesive neighborhoods of at least 40 acres. Because ownership does not overlap between Fairview Addition West and The Woods, for development reasons The Woods is not incorporated into the Fairview Addition West Refinement Plan.
Even though the Planning Commission will see a refinement plan for "The Woods," the language inside the plan is all about "The Greater Woods." This isn't exactly a bait-and-switch, but it is a dodgy rhetorical move to switch all the attributes between a subset and superset. I think it qualifies outright as a species of BS.

The Plan is all about "The Greater Woods," not "The Woods"
With the big houses and big lots, you can't actually make the "sustainability" stuff work if you keep the plan's subject strictly as "The Woods," and this will be interesting to see if that move is accepted.

On the other hand, it's only 16 lots, and if that means it will be easier to develop the missing middle housing elsewhere at Fairview, then that's a defensible trade-off.

So it's important to say that while the argument has some real BS in it, it also doesn't matter very much.

If building 16 big houses is necessary for the project to pencil - and here is a moment when you wish developers had to be more transparent about the financials on a project that is enjoying some amount of public assistance or subsidy - and for the middle housing to be built farther down the hill, then this seems like a small and reasonable trade-off.

The original land use concept, now much modified
But increasingly, the Fairview projects together are a kind of donut: Single-family housing and 3-story walkups. The middle is missing! So far there's none of the middle housing and "medium intensity" development, the "village center" is an empty shell, and hardly any of the old buildings are being reused, remodeled, or rehabilitated. So getting some small plexes and townhouses and such will be important, otherwise the whole thing will just end up being "same-old, same-old," big single-family houses and apartment blocks on large parking lots, all fundamentally autoist no matter how much ornamental path frippery and pervious pavement there is.

As for the trees, if there would be reasons to be very skeptical about tree preservation with most developers, Olsen deserves the benefit of the doubt, and there are good reasons to think that most of the trees will be retained:
A tree inventory conducted by a professional surveyor shows 738 trees on The Woods Refinement Area site. All but four of the significant trees on the site will be preserved and further preservation efforts will be in compliance with SRC 808: Preservation of Trees and Vegetation. No heritage trees were identified. Per table 4, no less than 64% of the trees will be preserved, which far exceeds tree preservation requirements per SRC 808.
I take this at face value, straight up.

Maybe you or others will disagree, and it will be interesting to read that critique if it is developed. Probably there will be more to say once the Staff Report is out.

The Hearing will be Tuesday, July 9th.

Update, July 4th

Late yesterday the City finally published the Staff Report for "The Woods." It recommends approval with some additional conditions and revisions.

I'm not sure there is much to say. Critique seems to be in that middle space in which reasonable people can disagree, and even if some points might be a little disagreeable or debatable, they are defensible.

A neighbor writes that the Neighborhood Association didn't get adequate notice and suggested that "The Woods" should be preserved as woods and as whole and that the process needs to be delayed.

A former investor in Sustainable Fairview writes that they like the proposal.

City Staff mostly find it acceptable.

Interestingly, the Staff Report works around the way "The Woods" borrows properties from "The Greater Woods" and does not seem bothered much by it.

There is a little more strangeness about the public-private relation.

How do private streets encourage connection?
The Staff Report says The Woods plan "encourages pedestrian and vehicular connection between both Fairview Woods and the Fairview Addition West," but it's not clear how a private street system accomplishes this. The Woods as proposed is much more "secluded" than the rhetoric here suggests. It's almost like a gated community, and it may not feel welcoming to people from outside the neighborhood who might want to take a walk or bike ride through it. This particular interpretation of "connection" works only for close neighbors and does not seem consistent with the spirit of the original Fairview concept and plan.

The Staff Report glides over the Private Steet sometimes
The section on transit is a little dodgy, with more wishing than realism.

BRT or a streetcar is unlikely inside Fairview!
And there's a little bit of unintended comedy about a petroglyph that wasn't.

Backhoe marks, not petroglyph
But there does not seem to be grounds for any fundamental critique of the plan. Here and in the Staff Report also it's occasional criticism of minor details only.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Two observations today
1. Salem City Planners have been working on how to integrate denser housing into the city for several years. They started working on revisions to the multifamily design codes for about a year and there will be a public work shop on that soon. They are talking about what might be allowed with fourplexes as well as small multifamily up to 12 units in size.

2. The City adopted a work plan to allow duplexes and triplexes in Residential Single Family zones 3 years ago. So, they have been moving towards this for some time now. The law does not say how a city might do the integration, so it will be a process that may take a while to be finalized so building can take place.

Comment: While the city can allow something to happen, it is the developers to actually make it happen. My question is will banks support this effort? Will people buy them at a rate that makes them worth the risk of investment?

Update on a high density subdivision: There was a proposal to build a large Planned Unit Development of over 800 row houses on more than 100 acres at the old Pictsweet property. Well, the plans have changed dramatically. Now the plan is not to build townhouses on skinny lots, but a more traditional single family houses on 3400 to 4500 square foot lots. Total number is down to 659 houses with a density of about 8 units per acre.

I do not know if the change is due to financing issues or a realization that that name row houses is a risk, but the density was a big issue with neighbors. The developer claims the houses will be priced around $300,000.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Section 3.1.b of HB 2001 says that cities like Salem have until June 30th, 2022 to bring their codes into conformance with the legislation. LCDC will develop a model code for cities that do not want to undertake their own process wholly on their own.

So that's the basic timeline.

Then, banks and builders will need to jump on board with appropriate financial products and all the rest. Big Developers, those whom we usually designate by the term "developer," historically have preferred larger multi-family developments, and what this may partially generate is a new class of small-scale "developers" - sortof yeoman developers of the kind Strong Towns has been so keen to promote. This is not a certain process, as you say, but it's an interesting and potentially creative one.

In any case, something that's important to understand is this legislation does not outlaw single-family homes. People can and will still build them. There will remain a market for them.

What this does is create more options. One person described it this way: "When we talk about how HB2001 changes neighborhoods, this is it. More people can afford multi-family housing than single-family housing, so HB2001 expands access to neighborhoods rich with amenities, services, good schools, transit, walking & bike infrastructure."

And this is the reason - not "density" itself - that the mushroom plant project was ill-conceived. That's an area without amenities, services, transit, walking, and biking.

The places where HB 2001 is more likely to have an effect are ones nearer downtown where the streetcar-era street grid is more nearly intact as well as residential neighborhoods nearer to the arterial stroads that have goods and services on them.

But it will likely be a gradual effect, not a fast-moving one.

Anonymous said...

Strong Towns with a ranging overview here -

Susann Kaltwasser said...

The Pictsweet project (East Side Estates) will have bike lanes on the main street. It will connect to State Street and Cordon which also have bike lanes. There is a bus that come from Center Street to Auburn via Greencrest that will connect with this subdivision's main street that will extend travel from Center to State, so I see the bus route being adjusted.

The nearest school is Auburn Elementary which is less than a quarter mile and the whole subdivision is about a mile from the Mall at Lancaster. So, it is not "without amenities." And there will be a 7 acre park, plus walking paths and a stream through the area.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Perhaps because the "amenities" quote was offered without context, it is a little ambiguous, but the mere existence of bike lanes on busy streets like State and especially like Cordon does not count in the intended sense of amenities. It was intended as about the walkable, urban amenities of a streetcar-scaled commercial district and neighborhood. The original vision for Fairview with the "village center" built out would qualify. The pictsweet project you describe remains isolated on the edge of the city and very autoist, and is not (yet) full of the kinds of amenities that were intended. (They could come, but Cordon is at the moment too far from things and too zoomy.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Strong Towns piece anon cited "Making Normal Neighborhoods Legal Again," is long but approaches the legislation from a number of different angles and is "ranging" as they say. Very much worth reading.

On monoculture and a kind of factory urbanism: "single-use zoning is also simply a part of the institutional mindset of the suburban experiment and the large-scale, corporate developers that have carried it out: efficiency and predictability require standardization, which requires monocultures. The heavy machinery used by a corn or soybean farmer to quickly till, water, and fertilize many acres is useless in a garden in which various species are interspersed. The mass-production model of the capital-D Developer is useless in an eclectic, mixed neighborhood.

The world mapped out by strict use-based zoning is all very orderly, and many individual homeowners have bought into the approach

And in a tweet on historical process: "This powerful Strong Towns concept -- no neighborhood should be forced to experience radical change, but no neighborhood can be exempt from change -- is a simple step any community can take."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Updated with link to and comments on Staff Report for "The Woods.")

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

OPB has a piece on the probability of gradual change, "Oregon Strikes Exclusive Single-Family Zoning, But Effects May Take Years."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Fairview project was continued at the Planning Commission. The supplemental Staff Report mainly addresses some technical details, and it does not seem likely the project will be rejected or denied.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here's an interesting wrinkle from the July 10th Morningside NA minutes on The Woods:

"Olsen’s contention is that the subject area is a troublesome piece for several reasons including its attraction to homeless campers. His firm’s plan would minimize removal of specimen trees as compared to typical housing development, would minimize street width by excluding sidewalks, but would instead include pedestrian pathways through the development to comply with plans for such in the original plan. He submits that the low-density development would sustain the aesthetic values of open space, while discouraging currently-occurring unauthorized activity such as homeless camping. Later in the discussion Olsen pointed out that since the Fairview Plan was adopted, no one has come forward with any offers to buy the property for preservation."