Saturday, October 26, 2019

City Council, October 28th - The Mushroom Plant and a new Traffic Light

While the headlines will probably be the botched ballot and the need for a new vote in appointing a new Ward 7 City Councilor, as well as the Public Hearings on the Operations Fee and Employee Tax, here it is a proposed set of TSP amendments for a new collector street at the old mushroom plant that leads our interest at Council on Monday.

The two main choices for a new traffic signal and intersection
Mostly it seems to boil down to where should we place the traffic light and major intersection on State Street.

As we saw previously (and the Planning Commission approval is here and previous notes here) the TSP currently calls for a collector street along the west edge of the property, and that logical alignment there is with Cougar Court.

The assessment matrix at least nods to walking and biking
North-south travel by any means, including walking and biking, would be best served by a connection at 49th, which continues through south of State Street. Both Cougar Court and Oakmont Court are essentially dead-ends, and make no connections south.

The traffic memo submitted to the City recognizes of this:
The impact of the traffic signal on cyclists depends on the travel direction. For southbound cyclists that want to continue onto 49th Avenue the location of the intersection provides little difference in conditions. The farther west the signal is located the longer cyclists will be on the higher-volume State Street, but the maneuver to 49th Avenue is a right-turn allowing cyclists to remain in the bicycle lane. Northbound cyclists will have a more difficult connection, with only more experienced riders turning left directly onto State Street, and less experienced riders using the sidewalk system to access the signalized crossing. Direct alignment with 49th Avenue is ideal for cyclists and pedestrians, but the closer the signal is to 49th Avenue the more ideal its location will be for multimodal travel. [italics added]
But eastbound traffic onto or across Cordon Road will back up across 49th, and so a connection further west seemed desirable.

The corner at Oakmont will also be the site of the commercial cluster, and an Oakmont alignment also supports retail access and the bus stops on State Street.

So the compromise they've settled on is at Oakmont Court.

This seems reasonable.

The project is now right-sized for three auto lanes
Just as a footnote, it is interesting to recall earlier this year that the MPO was scoring a proposal to widen State Street to five auto lanes. This phase was west of the Mushroom plant, nearer to Lancaster, but a second phase was envisioned to connect with this first phase.

Nothing in the traffic memos suggests five lanes was necessary here, and any walking and biking northbound along 49th and connecting to Greencrest continuing north would have found a five-lane cross section very formidably indeed. A three-lane section is the right thing here.

Other Transportation-adjacent Items

The Riverbend project zoning change (not the site plan or design review, just the zoning change with concept plan) is under appeal. The criticism is mostly NIMBY complaint and not anything very well founded. Significantly, neither ODOT nor the City has filed any meaningful new comment by way of Staff Report on the appeal. The decision seems very likely to stand as-is. (See previous notes here.)

Second phase to the north with apartments;
also expands the southern half shopping center

There's an interesting note about Mobile Home Parks on the agenda. "Shall the City Council incorporate the preservation of mobile home parks into the City’s broader housing strategy when pursuing and distributing funding sources and updating the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan?"

Plainly the answer is yes. The Mobile Home Parks are a significant class of affordable housing, they often have slow-streets, and they offer slightly higher housing densities. (See "Reclaiming 'Redneck' Urbanism: What Urban Planners can Learn from Trailer Parks" and "The Other Affordable Housing Option" at Strong Towns.)

But the details are another thing, of course. The City analyzed two proposed preservation or rent containment actions as unlawful:
Representatives of the Sundial Mobile Home Park asked staff if the City could prohibit park owners from buying individual mobile homes and either renting them out or replacing them with newer mobile homes and then renting them out. Such a restriction would likely be a taking under Oregon or U.S. Constitutions and could require the City to pay park owners just compensation.

Further, a requirement that park owners give tenants a right of first refusal before selling the park to a third party would also likely constitute a taking of the park owner’s property rights.
This is something to watch and to support as an unglamorous but effective approach to housing affordability.

Advertising "luxury apartments" at 13th & Chemeketa
The City also proposes to extend an abatement under the Multiple Unit Housing Tax Incentive Program to an existing building on 13th & Chemeketa.

The building was constructed in the 1960s as an apartment building, but was then converted to office space. It is (or has) returned to apartments and the owner wants the property tax break. (See previous notes here and the City's site plan review here.)

Here are the current and historical beneficiaries of the program:
Since 1976, seven properties have been approved by Council for this Program:
  • Koz on State Street/Nishioka Building (142 units) - 260 State Street Tax exemption period expires in 2031.
  • The Court Yard Apartments (40 units) - 211 Court Street NE) Tax exemption period expires in 2030.
  • South Block Apartments (178 units, Phases I & II) - 315 Commercial Street SE Tax exemption period expires in 2025 & 2027 (Phases I & II respectively).
  • The Residences at Riverfront Park (118 units) - 230 Front Street SE Project cancelled prior to construction.
  • Willamette Landing Apartments (89 units) - 1601-1675 Water Street NE Tax exemption period expired in 2000.
  • Forum Apartments (62 units) - 350 13th Street SE Tax exemption period expired 1990.
  • Mill Bridge Terrace Apartments (24 units) - 728 Church Street NE Tax exemption period expired in 1987.
All this is new construction, and I wonder if this application for existing construction really meets the spirit of the program. It's also possible to wonder how effective it has been. If the program was meant to incent new housing, why have only 7 projects been approved since 1976? If we were serious about new housing, wouldn't we want an incentive program to create many more projects than this? It may be that this approach with property tax breaks is not the best way to create new housing downtown. (Especially when Council is looking at an Operations Fee and Employee Tax.)

Bullets for the rest:


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added link to resiliency comments.)

Susann Kaltwasser said...

A comment on the alignment of Greencrest Street. This issue was briefly mentioned during the larger land use case of the East Park Estates PUD where 690 new houses and apartments are to be constructed, but the East Lancaster Neighborhood Association has not taken the matter up yet as it is a separate action.

However, it should be pointed out that the focus on State Street, 49th and the subdivision is limited in scope. I would like to make people aware of the larger issue. That is the connection of all the houses (and sadly cars) that are on 49th, added too the many houses (690 and their cars) will now have access through the existing neighborhood of Greencrest to the north that connects to Center Street just east of Royalty Drive. By taking 49th, to Greencrest you get access to Center....but by jogging up a short distance to Royalty, a person (via bike, walking or more likely by car) can get to Swegle/Market Street and then I-5. Using this path you avoid Cordon Road or Lancaster Drive.

Having lived in the area for 30 years, I know that it will take people a mere nanosecond to figure out this path through residential neighborhoods that will allow you to avoid two major arterials! If people go up 45th to Sunnyview they can make it as far as Silverton Road via Brown Road or Hollywood without ever touching either of these major streets too.

I am not sure this is good or bad. But I do think that when we consider making such decisions it is wise to look at the implications for the entire network of streets and not just one intersection.

BTW, you cut off comments on Brentano blog post, but it should be noted that he was the one pushing for 5 lanes on State and Center Streets. This would impact the 'safe routes to schools' because it would make these streets the same width and capacity as Lancaster Drive and bigger than Cordon Road. School children have to cross both these streets to get to their local schools. I can't figure out what he was thinking other than his belief that more car capacity is the main goal, not safety. I hope the next Commissioner is from Salem and has a better view of how we should be developing our infrastructure

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the note about Royalty and diversion. Will return to that as this project moves forward. Just generally, we need to be thinking about accepting traffic divertors on lower-traffic streets so they do not become widely used alternatives to our arterials and other large streets meant for through-travel.