Monday, September 21, 2020

City Council and Planning Commission, September 23th - Our Salem Vision and Plan

Council convenes on Wednesday the 24th in a Work Session jointly with the Planning Commission to consider the draft Vision and Plan coming out of Our Salem.

The draft Vision and Plan occasioned here some critique, and that elicited some counter-critique.

Oregon, too: Sunday the 13th in the LA Times

Over at Hinessight in a post rightly arguing the plan needed to center climate more, Planning Commissioner Michael Slater contested a couple of things:

[Conversion] of a significant quantity of commercial space to mixed use is a bigger deal than people recognize. In fact, creating mixed use space and more land-use flexibility (so that services and consumers are physically closer together) is the biggest GHG reduction tool in the land use policy toolkit. Unfortunately, the Breakfast on Bikes author did not recognize that point. He also skipped over the significant increase in multi-family zoning. As for converting from stroads to boulevards, I agree. What's missing from Breakfast on Bike's critique is that the city has approved and partially funded a plan to do just that in Commercial. It's called the Vista-Commercial Corridor project. It includes wide sidewalks, buffered bike lanes in both direction, a new signalized pedestrian crosswalk and a dedicated bike signal where Commercial and Liberty spilt.

The Value of Mixed-Use Zoning and Place in Larger Narrative

Since the value of mixed-use projects is so axiomatic for the breakfast blog, it did not seem necessary to say more about that and perhaps that was a mistake. In fact, there is not so much disagreement here really. 

In saying here that the draft proposal leaned too much on Commercial Street and Lancaster Drive, it wasn't also saying "don't do that." It was to say we should do more and that the mixed-use and upzoning should be distributed more widely, not confined so narrowly to the busiest of Salem streets. (We'll consider this in relation to the proposed R4 zoning in another post.)

That might be an artifact of the fact that there is a difficult politics here, and the rhetoric in the plan has to serve the politics as well as serve as an explanation of the plan.

One of the elements in the politics is that the way this plan is envisioned to flow into an HB 2001 compliance plan is totally elided. That is a necessary sequel, but in the world of the plan itself we are going to agnostic about it and pretend for the moment we don't know anything about it as a sequel.

So some of the criticism of the plan here is criticism of its silence on any HB 2001 compliance (a silence that always been overtly stated and never hidden it should be noted), and it might have been an error not to say more about that. The plan is presented as an end, but in fact it is only a moment, a big moment to be sure, but a moment in a still developing process and narrative, and I would like to have more explicit discussion of how it is envisioned to be a part of that larger picture of HB 2001 with middle housing and our forthcoming Climate Action Plan. The politics, alas, probably work against having this discussion formally. But without understanding the Vision and Plan's place in relation to those, we have to evaluate it in isolation, and it comes up short. And even if we have to take HB 2001 compliance off the table, we could wait for a Climate Action Plan.

Empirical Data Missing

As it would be nice to have more discussion of the way this plan would be a moment in our transition on climate and also the way it relates to middle housing reform prompted by the State legislation, it would be nice to have more discussion of existing mixed-use areas and how they do or do not function.

Two similar projects compared
990 Broadway and State Street Study

We have a new project going forward on Broadway that is at least superficially similar to a hypothetical project discussed as not feasible in the State Street Study a couple years ago. What about any differences here? Are they significant?

The new State Street mixed-use zoning doesn't seem to have prompted any new redevelopment, the new zoning on Edgewater also seems to reinforce the monoculture of medical clinics, and redevelopment downtown remains a struggle.

This project for Belluschi Pond was abandoned
Just simply rezoning a bunch of land for mixed-use development has not been sufficient, and it would be helpful as part of the plan, or perhaps as a technical appendix or ancillary report, to have more discussion about what is working and what is not working. Too often it has seemed like rezoning is simply an exercise in coloring the map, and is not by itself effective. If we want the rezoning to be effective, we likely need more support and adjustment to our existing concepts and categories. We also need to be willing to talk more about things like our mania for free parking.

Commercial-Vista Corridor is not a Stroad-to-Boulevard Conversion

A more substantial disagreement with Slater is on the significance of the Commercial-Vista Corridor projects. The Commercial-Vista Corridor plan is not at all a stroad-to-boulevard conversion. It retains key stroad characteristics and merely adds better bike lanes and some new enhanced crosswalks, and one length of sidewalk that is just basic remediation, no more. The corridor plan is limited to a short section of "middle" Commercial, also, and does not go the length of the proposed mixed-use zoning on Commercial or any length on Lancaster. The funded projects the City has in the queue are limited and partial - incremental improvements to be sure - but not at all the full conversion to a boulevard that would be appropriate to swaths of new mixed-use projects.

So we'll argue that point here much more strongly.

Scenarios and their Influence on Current Proposal

Going back to the scope of mixed-use rezoning, it is interesting to consider three of the scenarios we saw earlier in this spring. At that time they seemed too small and modest, and combining them seemed like a useful thing.

These did get combined into a ambitious scenario
I should have made this comparison earlier, as the draft does seem to combine elements from three of the scenarios into one that is more ambitious. That is a positive. But they could have gone farther.

(This key is not very helpful or clear
as information design)

It looks like the downtown area drew mostly on scenario C rather than scenario D. Skyline and Liberty drew a little on scenario B, but appear to be scaled back. 

Is Change Equitably Distributed?

There may be an argument that the draft Vision and Plan keeps the greater Sprague area around Skyline and Liberty too insulated from change.

Have we insulated one quadrant from change?

West Salem also seems a little insulated from change. Especially with the contentiousness of the failed SRC, more discussion of how this proposal reduces driving in West Salem would be helpful. (The misguided notion that vehicle delay is a good indicator is a problem in this light.)

Is the amount of change
equitable for West and South Salem?

Close-in streetcar gridded areas like the Bush Park-Gaiety Hill, Court-Chemeketa, and Grant neighborhoods are mostly exempted from change also.

Both West Salem and South Salem have hills and fragmented street grids, and geography is part of this also.

Politics might seem to require silence on all this, but in order to understand the logic of the Plan it would be helpful to see more explicit discussion of these areas.

Scoring the Vision and Plan on the Indicators

Even with flaws in the modeling, we need to see an assessment of the current proposal. Why doesn't the draft Vision and Plan as published include scoring consistent with the scoring we saw earlier? We should be able to measure it by the same standards we measured the others so we have an apples-to-apples comparison. (Previously see theses notes, here, here, here on that scoring.)

Here are the indicators

Altogether, one of the problems with the Vision and Plan is that we are asked to evaluate it more by our feelings and preferences, and less by higher level values and metrics. Does it really do what we want it to do? Maybe we'll decide the plan is truly wonderful, but at the moment there is not enough information for more considered judgement.

There is also more to say on the new proposed R4 zoning and on the Neighborhood Hub concepts, and maybe other things also. There's lots to think about in the Vision and Plan! So there will be more posts as here and elsewhere we all continue to absorb and grapple with the plan.


MikeSlater said...

Thanks for the new commentary on the Our Salem plan. A few of my own thoughts:

I agree the Our Salem process should squarely address and reach a conclusion on the how to implement HB 2001. I think the staff has been working on an HB2001 proposal as a separate activity. I'm not sure why they shouldn't be integrated. I will ask.

It seems pretty clear that except in a few limited case (i.e. neighborhood hubs and R4) staff did not propose to rezone single family zones that have houses on them now. Staff did rezone undeveloped single family zones to denser zoning designations. I think, as you noted, it's a political compromise. I also don't think that is a terrible decision at this point given (a) current population estimates, (b) our ability to meet housing by rezoning empty and commercial lands, (c) our ability to rezone property at any given time through the regular land use process, and (d) the new mandate to update the comp plan every 8 years.

I think your point that we need metrics on key variables to assess the zoning plan is dead on. It will be interesting to see if these are forthcoming.

I take your point that the Commercial-Vista project doesn't fit your stroad-to-boulevard conversation. I guess my larger point is that there has been some thought and perhaps something that might be called forward momentum to improving the quality of Commercial St. It would obviously be better if it were moving on a faster timeline and continued to the end of Commercial as you suggest. Then implemented on several other arterials throughout the City. My guess is that we will hear questions about that issue during the two workshops. After a final comp plan is adopted, the City will move on to updating the transportation and parks plans.They will be almost as important.

I'm not quite sure I follow your claim that Skyline-Sprague is "protected.' Where I see a gap is on Lone Oak, especially south of Kuebler.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Oh boy. The scoring on the indicator metrics is not at all promising. See note on this updated post (since this one is already so long).