Friday, June 19, 2020

City Council, June 22 - The Problem of the Cemetery

Council meets on Monday and they have a huge agenda. I don't see how everything gets a proper amount of attention. It's packed enough that it's possible to wonder if some things are strategically getting buried.

In addition to the City's budget, as part of that three Councilors have various motions specifically about Police reform. Others will have more informed things to say about them, but they are worth close attention.

Four options
Here we will focus on an update on the prospect of a connection through the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery. It's not really much of an update and, in the context of all the other items on the agenda, seems designed for the status quo rather than a solution that finally slices through the Gordian knot.

Still, early in the decade one solution seemed best, and this solution still seems best.

The alleys, streets, and easements potentially in play
And the Planned Unit Development
that currently enjoys a "private" alley as part of their commons

Commercial is nasty for people on foot or on bike!
The Staff Report is scrupulously neutral:
The following six options are presented with no implied order of preference:

Option 1: Take no action.

Option 2: Initiate amendments to remove a path from master plans and vacate the pedestrian access easement.
If the Salem Transportation System Plan and the Salem Comprehensive Parks Master Plan are amended to remove mention of the potential for a trail connection and if the vacation of the public access easement is adopted by Council, these two actions will effectively remove from future consideration a pedestrian path at this location.

Option 3: Improve pedestrian facilities along Commercial Street S
Among the issues raised in the past regarding this issue is the inadequacy of the sidewalk on Commercial Street S connecting Candalaria and Fairmont neighborhoods. Commercial Street S from Rural Avenue S to Hoyt Street S is approximately 730 feet, approximately 520 feet of which abuts Pioneer Cemetery. The sidewalk on the west side of Commercial Street S (abutting Pioneer Cemetery) is five feet wide. There is no planting strip separating the sidewalk from vehicular traffic. There is a six-foot-wide bike lane on Commercial Street SE from Rural Avenue S to Hoyt Street SE. There is a project currently in design to narrow the travel lanes on Commercial Street SE in this section and create a painted buffer between the bike lane and travel lanes. No plans exist in the Salem Transportation System Plan to modify this stretch of sidewalk or at the intersections of Commercial Street SE at Rural Avenue S or Hoyt Street SE to make them more pedestrian friendly. Improving the pedestrian environment would require either:
  1. Reconfiguring the sidewalk and landscape area and possibly purchasing land from Pioneer Cemetery and from the property to the north (2001 Commercial Street SE) to widen or relocate the sidewalk towards the west. There is an approximately 19-foot wide strip of land (containing shrubbery and 10 shade trees) along Pioneer Cemetery that divides the sidewalk from the fence surrounding the cemetery. This width tapers down to about nine feet at the intersection with Rural Avenue S. The location of the sidewalk in this area could be moved closer to fence surrounding the cemetery, leaving room to create a landscaped buffer between the pedestrian realm and the travel lanes. This would require removal of the existing trees and would likely require construction of a retaining wall due to topography. Such modification would also require determination of impacts to the historic cemetery.
  2. Reconfiguring Commercial Street S to accommodate widening the sidewalk on the west side of the street.
Option 4: Construct a trail through Fairmount Park.
The Salem Transportation System Plan identifies a shared use path through Fairmount Park and connecting Rural Avenue S to Crestview Drive S for future improvement as a recommended Tier 3 Pedestrian Project. There is currently an unpaved trail that connects Fairmount Park and Crestview Drive S near the Willamette View Apartments. This trail is approximately a quarter-mile long and is primarily packed dirt with occasional sections of mud owing to groundwater seepage. Some segments of the trail may be too steep to meet accessibility requirements and might require relocating and redesign.

Option 5: Construct a connection through Pioneer Cemetery.
A connection between John Street S and Hoyt Street S through Pioneer Cemetery would be approximately 500 feet long. To meet ADA requirements, a firm and stable surface would need to be provided with a minimum width of 36 inches, with additional width for passing spaces at intervals of 200 feet. To accommodate the path inside the cemetery, a storage area and composting bins must be relocated, and vegetation removed. A gate at the northern boundary of the cemetery must be installed and landing area leading from the cemetery into the Fairmount neighborhood at John Street S constructed. This could be accomplished by either:
  1. Purchasing an easement over private property to connect the existing easement area to John Street S over the location of the current shared driveway; or
  2. Constructing a pathway over the currently unopened alley right-of-way connecting to Rural Street through the open space within the Pioneer Alley PUD.
If this option were pursued, Parks Operations would need to assign responsibility for opening and closing the gate to align with cemetery hours.
As the Pioneer Cemetery is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places there are two additional and separate approval processes required:
  1. Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Clearance Review This review must demonstrate that the proposed alterations will not adversely impact either the above ground resources or the below ground resources (including burials). Additionally, the City must demonstrate that alternatives have been explored to accomplish the same goal-connectivity between neighborhoods-that would avoid impacting the historic resource.
  2. Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) Review Any proposed alterations at Pioneer Cemetery would require a Type III public hearing review before the HLC. As with the SHPO review, the City will need to demonstrate that the proposed alterations will not adversely affect any above or below ground historic resources. The HLC review and its decision are considered a land use actions which are appealable to the Hearings Officer. The HLC decision cannot be called up by the City Council for further consideration.
Option 6: Construct a connection that includes City View Cemetery.
A pedestrian route could be made in which a portion or all of the path runs along the boundary between Pioneer Cemetery and City View Cemetery. The terminus of the path could be located at the northern boundary of City View Cemetery and aligned with John Street S. This option would require acquisition of an easement from City View Cemetery. The property owner of the cemetery has stated as recently as early 2020 that he is not interested in providing an easement for the purposes of pedestrian pathway.
Option No. 6 is Best

Here is has always seemed that Option No. 6 made the most sense from a high-level perspective. It lined up most neatly with John Street, a public street, to the north and avoided any need to go through the PUD, which has over time encroached on the alley and would experience a real kind of loss of privacy were that alley opened to public through travel.

City View logically connects with John Street
It is also easy to see why the PUD
does not favor alley access
(not part of Staff Report)
City View already has staffing to open and close gates, and it also always seemed reasonable to close any passage at night with the rest of the cemetery. A connection should be integrated with existing cemetery operations.

That option, of course, would put a path on private property, and as the Staff Report says, "would require acquisition of an easement from City View Cemetery." Then it becomes a matter of a fair price that makes it worthwhile to City View.

Delaminating concrete on the Mausoleum steps (2013)

Water damage to ceiling and floor tile in Mausoleum (2013)
City View also has had deferred maintenance issues, especially on the Mausoleum, an historically significant structure associated with Ellis F. Lawrence, and a fair price from the City of Salem - not a low-ball, a fair price - could help them with those and indirectly contribute to historic preservation of a significant building in Salem.

December 20th, 1913
So if we have "contribute to historic preservation" as a criteria, No. 6 is best. For the moment let's stipulate that a path in Pioneer Cemetery would be disruptive since there is no drive that connects the north and south edges. (I am not sure of this, but for the moment let's assume it's true.) There is that connecting drive in City View, and paying a fair price to City View can enhance preservation efforts. From a preservation standpoint, Option No. 6, even with a current owner who has indicated a lack of interest, could materially advance historic protections much more directly than any benefit from a path in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery.

Options Nos. 3 and 4 have seemed very inferior, and don't actually accomplish connecting Candalaria and Fairmount with a more direct route. They do not seem worth it. The whole point is to avoid Commercial, and a Fairmount Park trail would be nice, but it requires dropping down nearly to River Road to access it. Only a Skopil to John Street alignment through a cemetery keeps to a low-traffic middle geography between the crest of the hill and Commercial Street.

Option No. 5, through the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, does not directly connect to John Street and again the alignment of any path is at least tricky. There are also the other procedural red tape matters, as well as the PUD and Friends of the Cemetery that are opposed.

I did not understand why a swap was not pursued (2012)
A plan for Option No. 6 could also involve a negotiated swap. The east-west segment at the elbow of John Street that is now private could be redesignated as public in exchange for fully vacating the alley that runs through the PUD. This segment of John Street logically connects with the existing drive in City View.

Rather than uncovering new information and advancing the analysis and debate, the Staff Report is mostly about getting new Councilors up to speed on an old controversy. As an scrupulously neutral document, presented on a very busy agenda, it seems designed to frustrate Councilors with a seemingly intractable situation and maintaining the status quo.

But Option No. 6 deserves a more serious look and an attempt to see if there is in fact common ground and a fair price. Is there a deal that gives City View something it wants? A real win-win deal so both sides feel good.

In light of all the competing interests and different values, some of which are in fact in tension with one another, negotiating a fair price with City View has seemed like the best compromise that gets closest to a balanced solution. Council should choose to explore Option No. 6 further and see if there was a way and price to have City View as full, willing partner.

(Over the weekend there might be a second post on other agenda items.)

Addendum on Cemetery Uses

The preferred solution here does not directly involve the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, but we should remove objections against recreational visits to cemeteries. Historically there have been many different uses and reasons to visit the cemetery, not all of which entail visiting a specific grave.

Sheep grazing in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery
detail, WHC 0096.003.0001

"Picnicking was somewhat common place"
Elisabeth Walton Potter in Salem Reporter

"passive recreational use [and] leisure outings...helped give rise
to the movement for urban parks"
 acknowledged in the National Register listing


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Your suggestion of a swap of land or right of way through the PUD is full of potential problems. First, a path through the center of the PUD would change the character of that area. Where now people have the advantage of shared views and a semi-private space in front of their homes, they would have a public pathway essentially through what is their front yard. Very quickly they would decide to protect their privacy by putting up fences where possible. This would create a possible long corridor of fences, i.e. and ally. And possibly a blind dark alley. If there were a gate at Rural Street that could also be closed, that might help, but I doubt it.

You talk a great deal about the Cemetery being able to take advantage of the money from a sale of right of way for a path through their property, but you do not mention the purchase of the driveway off of John Street through the PUD. I am not sure the property owner is willing to sell. In fact at one point, they threatened to sue the City if they tried to take her property for such an access way.

This to me seems like a very tricky feat and is more about a few neighbors wanting their way. In fact the key neighbors who wanted the access are spearheaded by the same few that asked once before. Walkways are forever, but neighbors are not, so it is wise to move forward very cautiously on this matter.

As I have said here before, I have worked on the closure of several poorly designed and completely unwanted pathways like this. What once seems like a good idea, can become a serious problem for the people who actually have to live next to them. One path I am trying to close has lingered for 14 years and during that time the houses next to it have turned into rentals because no one wants to buy a house there. One house has been vacant for 5 years! In a time when housing is so needed, that seems very sad to me.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

What?! Here's what's in the post on Option No. 5 and the PUD:

"the PUD, which has over time encroached on the alley and would experience a real kind of loss of privacy were that alley opened to public through travel."

Nowhere is there a suggestion that a path go along the easement!

The swap idea, which apparently was not clear, is that linked to a deal with City View and a connection to the public street, John Street, the City should permanently close the alley and give up the easement.

I'm sorry I was not clear on this apparently.

(Also, if the gate were in-line with John Street, the driveway off John Street to the PUD would not necessarily have to be in play.)

As for path closing, you have generalized your preference to the notion that ALL paths are bad, and we disagree on this. Still, the solution proposed here uses a public street connection, not the alley.

Good design is the solution, not some blanket assertion that all paths are inherently awful.