Thursday, October 17, 2019

New City Buildable Lands Map Needs Revision

The City announced today a new map project to identify "commercial and industrial zoned land that may be further developed."

But it's not at all clear this is what the map really shows. There seem to be some additional silent filters that are not disclosed and there are also lots that probably shouldn't be included as buildable.

The idea of the map is good! But the execution is not so good.
Why is the City's new "park parcel" at the Boise project, the home for the future amphitheater, on the map as "buildable land"? It's not available for purchase or anyone to develop other than the City. In the sense that the amphiteater's not built yet, it's technically "buildable"; but in the sense that matters to someone looking for land to develop or redevelop, it's not "buildable."

Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
(click to enlarge)
And what about all those surface parking lots and empty lots downtown? Aren't they "buildable"? They are not sufficiently "improved" to count as "unbuildable." We should want to highlight them and find higher uses than parking for them.

And the City should consider including residential land, not just commercial and industrial. There are lots of empty lots in residential areas we should want for infill development. That contested project on Salem Heights is not highlighted and a map like this should also highlight those gaps in our residential fabric as infill candidates.

The idea behind this mapping project is great. But the data filters and queries behind the map need refinement so the map shows a more accurate and useful set of lots on which a person might actually build something. It shows Salem as more full, closer to built-out, than it really is. The map could be a tool in our conversations over "Our Salem," but as it is now, it shows some odd biases, omissions, and inclusions.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I think that you make a good point about the fact that there is more buildable land than shown on this map, but it does say that it deals with only commercial and industrial land so far. Perhaps in the future they will have a more complete map. Although, not sure how you determine 'buildable' in residential areas. Private land only gets developed when the property owner wants to develop it and in a free country, the government has limited ways to force development to happen according to some plan. Other than zoning....which most cities change at the whim of a property owner or a developer....or eminent domain, you really can't force most things in a Comprehensive Plan to be what is 'planned.'

The Our Salem exercise this past week was a fin exercise, but it was basically a ridiculous waste of time. As someone said, 'It is no way to do real planning, but I guess it keeps the public happy thinking they have a say in things."

What is lacking is some realistic discussion about policies that might actually be adopted that could make for real change. An example would be to say that future development must look at the accumulative impact of current and future development on transportation and connectivity.

Oh well, and so it goes.....

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Regarding privately owned land zoned for housing - to say it is "buildable" is not to force anything! But at least it is identified as theoretically available for development, either by current owner or by a new owner.

The talk about accumulated traffic impacts is an interesting one that we often see in criticism of development. If we take a large parcel and slice it up into much smaller "phases," then no single phase would ever trigger any impact mitigation. And the problem is worse when the smaller pieces are distributed across multiple owners. Together they have impact, but singly they are too small. Additionally, things like congestion, speed, and safety are a non-linear phenomenon with more like a step-function - things are smooth and then suddenly they're stuck or problematic. Our "proportionality" doctrine assumes they are linear. Our law on property and "takings" is not adequate to this situation, and it probably requires, at least as an ingredient, fixes in law much more general than an individual city can do in policy and statute.

You are right to highlight it, but it's a sticky problem!