Sunday, January 12, 2020

City Council, January 13th - Multi-family Housing Standards and Sneckdown Alert

Probably the informational report on car camping programs will get more attention at Council on Monday, but it's the proposed multi-family housing standards that we will talk about here.

I am not sure it is important to dwell on it, however. The plan has things that could be improved, but compliance with HB 2001 will require a whole new set of code amendments, and it would be easy to implement fixes to this proposal at that time. So I am not inclined to fuss too much over this.

Final summary

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On parking in particular, the Planning Commission adopted a set of recommendations to modify the proposed changes. Staff Recommendation departs from some of them and does not recommend adoption on all of them (italics added for emphasis):
The proposed code amendment would calibrate parking requirements according to the type of units provided in developments with 13 or more units. For example, one space would be required for each studio and one-bedroom unit, but 1.5 spaces would be required for each two- or more bedroom unit. This recognizes that dwelling units with more bedrooms are more likely to house residents with more than one car.

The proposed code amendment would also reduce off-street parking requirements for smaller multifamily projects. Specifically, the requirements for housing with three to 12 units would be required to provide one space per unit. Currently, a three-unit project is generally required to provide two spaces per unit, and a four to 12-unit project is required to provide 1.5 spaces per unit. Reducing these requirements would make it easier to develop smaller developments by providing more space for housing units instead of parking stalls. (Developers could build more parking than the minimum requirement.) The current parking requirements have made it very challenging for property owners to develop smaller projects on smaller lots, with many often abandoning their plans.

The Planning Commission recommended revising the parking requirements to match the proposal for larger multifamily projects, those with 13 or more units. Specifically, the commission wanted the minimum parking requirements calibrated to unit type. This recommendation is not included in the ordinance because parking requirements have been a major barrier to the development of smaller multifamily projects.

In addition, the proposed code amendment would allow a 10 percent off-street parking reduction for developments within a quarter-mile of a transit stop, and it would allow reductions for multifamily projects that provide additional covered bicycle parking or a shared car/van service on site. This provides an incentive for multifamily housing to be located near transit stops and encourages alternative forms of transportation. The Planning Commission recommended allowing a 20 percent reduction in required parking spaces for multifamily developments within a quarter-mile of stops with 15-minute transit service or stops within Cherriot’s Core Network. The Core Network is a network of bus service corridors where frequent service is prioritized. The corridors include, in part, Commercial Street SE, Liberty Street SE, Lancaster Drive NE, Market Street NE, Center Street NE, State Street, Edgewater Street NW, and Salem’s Downtown (Attachment 6). Reduction or removal of service in the corridors cannot occur without the Cherriots’ Board of Directors holding a public hearing and taking action. This Planning Commission recommendation is reflected in the ordinance; it further incents transit-oriented development and workforce housing.

Under the proposed code amendment, parking reductions would be allowed for affordable housing units, which are those affordable to household with incomes equal to or less than 60 percent of the median family income for the county in which the property is located. This would incent the development of lower-priced housing. The Planning Commission recommended revising the level of affordability to households earning 80 percent of median family income or less to align with the definition of affordable housing in the UDC. This recommendation is reflected in the ordinance. This change incents workforce housing.

In addition, the proposed code amendment would prohibit individual garages in multifamily projects with 13 or more units to be counted toward the required minimum number of parking spaces. This proposed provision addresses the concerns that garages are often used as storage as opposed to parking and reduced parking requirements could negatively impact neighborhoods. The Planning Commission recommended removing this prohibition, asserting that garages are meant for parking and should be counted as such. This recommendation is reflected in the ordinance.
I see no reason not to adopt Staff Recommendation. It is an incremental improvement, and there are already processes for further iteration envisioned when code for HB 2001 is formulated and when Our Salem generates code amendments. Adopt, and move on, I think. It's not worth trying to perfect right at this moment, and there are other exigencies that demand more of Council's attention. Pick your battles. (See previous discussion and a dissent here.)

IKE Box site: No parking, only 5- and 10-feet clearance
(yellow added)
The replat for a sale of the old funeral home to the IKE Box is an information item, and the proposed lot lines for the IKE Box are tight to the building.

The application from CB|Two (and not the Planning Decision itself) says:
The existing structure at 299 Cottage Street is currently non-conforming with no off-street parking provided for the occupants, additionally, their existing use was not reviewed and approved through a Site Plan Review procedure when the Ike Box Café and Isaac’s Room moved into the building as that procedure was added to the UDC in 2007 and these business have been tenants in the building since 2004. While there are no changes proposed, the degree of non-conformance will not increase or will be reduced with this application. A Site Plan Review with a request for an adjustment to required parking will be submitted to the City of Salem for review and approval for the Ike Box Café and Isaac’s Room to provide the Planning Department an opportunity to verify their uses are consistent with the applicable standards found in the UDC.
So that's why the lot line is so tight and includes no parking. The Site Plan Review will consider this in more detail.

And this is alright. If off-street parking is necessary, a cooperative, shared parking arrangement can be negotiated on nearby lots.

The remaining lots on the half block are consolidated into one lot for the new YMCA.

Council called up a decision on a subdivision just south of Hillcrest. (See previous notes on an associated park here.) There's a couple of "scrivener's errors," and the Staff Recommendation is to "MODIFY the Planning Administrator’s decision to correct two scriveners’ errors and approve the application," so I think this is purely a technical move for the correction and not a call up over any substantive or contested matter.

Finally, there's a slate of board and commission appointments, and a smaller set of interviews for the Planning Commission.

The applications for the Planning Commission are pretty dull and generic. But one of them stands out with a more sophisticated understanding of land use and planning. Michael Slater is also the only one to mention climate. You may know him from his work with the Mission Street Parks Conservancy and more general tree advocacy. Slater is clearly the best candidate for the Planning Commission. Council should interview and appoint him.

While we're on the topic of climate, here's more evidence that the winters were a lot colder. These charts of historic snow accumulation are from Pacific Northwest Weather: But my Barometer says Fair! by George Miller, published in 2002.

By decade starting with 1871

We're supposed to get snow this week, so look out for sneckdowns! Take pictures! Post to social media! Save them up to support efforts to slow the cars and restore our street system to a true mixed ecosystem of walking, biking, busing, and other non-auto travel.

South Commercial just north of Madrona - SJ video clip

From the City traffic cameras, here on 12th & State:
Lanes could be narrower, corner bulbs even larger
See here and here for more on sneckdowns and street design.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

On the call-up to correct a couple of scrivener's errors, Morningside NA adds a letter raising some substantive issues.

In particular they write, "MNA was promised (by the applicant’s presentation to neighborhood) 'a pedestrian sidewalk for the full length of the Reed Road frontage'. 'All the way'." And they request that "the Reed Road bike/ped walkway, within a half-street improvement, be included in the conditions of approval."

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Just a clarifying question about putting multifamily housing on bus corridors....can you show me where these properties are located that would be available for apartments? " The corridors include, in part, Commercial Street SE, Liberty Street SE, Lancaster Drive NE, Market Street NE, Center Street NE, State Street, Edgewater Street NW, and Salem’s Downtow."

So, what spaces would be open on that list? commercial and Liberty are all pretty much developed except those that are in the CRUD overlay which prohibits further redevelopment unless it looks like a house.

My observation says that leaves Center Street which is too narrow even if they tear down all the houses from 13th to 24th Street. Is the City suggesting doing that?

Or perhaps they mean Market Street. The area between 12th and Evergreen has an overlay for RM now. But no one has built there except a duplex in decades. The City has wanted to see that area turned into apartments for years, but the problem is that you have to buy up at least enough land to go deeper into the block than just one house on the frontage. We actually looked at this area when we did the RM design standards in the 1990s and the NA really objected to the overlay, but accepted it only because it would stop commercial encroachment.

But, IF there were a possibility to add multifamily (even smaller projects) the issue is that Market has a smaller right of way than would be necessary. To meet the street standards there would be a need to do away with the requirement for bike lanes. In that area there are 4 lanes parking allowed and a lot of zoomy traffic.

What bothers me about the whole process is that it doesn't look like they ever did a 'reality check' on how the recommendations might result in actually providing more housing. If you write a rule to make something possible, it seems to me that you have to write the rules that actually make something possible!

BTW, one of the things that we learned when doing the study years ago, was that you can get as much housing as rezoning, by just building mixed over shops. But no one wants to do that, so we figured why bother putting that in the code.

If we are going to build our way into more housing, seems to me that we have to adopt codes that will get us to that goal. I don't think we have tackled that issue yet.

Truth is that at some point, the City is goin to have to look at just re-zoning some more RM land. And neighbors are going to have to accept more 3-story high structures in their residential areas.

All of this is going to push some people out into rural areas or smaller bedroom communities (sprawl?). It is the pattern that we have seen for decades so I am not sure how the City thinks it is going to change for us. People blame the planning codes, but I blame human nature. We already see huge projects going in Jefferson and Independence.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Re: "can you show me where these properties are located that would be available for apartments?"

I don't think this is necessary.

You may be right that some of the details need correction, and they can be corrected in a subsequent iteration of code amendments.

But the most basic problem is that it appears you think criticism of the details is also criticism of the framework and invalidates the whole framework.

What is wrong about a policy to co-locate frequent transit and multi-family housing? That framework is sound!

If we find there are difficulties on that, we should make adjustments rather than throwing out the whole co-location policy.

(If you would like maps, here are discussions of two maps. One is from Our Salem, the other from a Redditor.)

Your theory of flight is discussed here. "But while some people may indeed move out, more will find attractive the improved amenities that cluster with a little higher densities, [and] will find attractive the opportunity to ditch a car..."