Thursday, April 29, 2021

Zoning Subcommittee Meets Friday to Start Looking at Six Zoning Concepts to Reduce Pollution

On Friday the 30th, the new Zoning Subcommittee for Our Salem will convene to receive what looks to be mainly an introduction to the concepts for analysis and debate.

Six zoning concepts for GHG pollution reductions

The agenda is pretty minimal, and, again, what appears to be the case is that popularity and palatability rather than effectiveness is going to frame and drive the discussion. The new subpage for the committee is also very thin and lacks any information about the six options. You have to know to go back to the full Our Salem page for that. Even so, the presentation to Council on March 8th in which they were first made public doesn't give any analysis for why they were selected and how much additional carbon pollution they would eliminate.

Meeting agenda

There is no more now. Maybe the analysis and discussion will get a different frame, but in the absence of any kind of Staff Report or other preparatory memo is a little worrisome.

Just generally, it remains strange that there is not more of a deductive shape to the project: 

  1. Our initial goal is for a 50% reduction by 2035
  2. Here are the strategies that will be most effective in reaching that goal
  3. Therefore, here are more specific policies/tactics to instantiate those strategies. 

But that is not at all how the project has gone. Instead it's more like spitballing: Here are a couple hundred ideas, which ones do you like best?

And now it looks like: Here are six ideas, a subset, which do you like?

Without more context for why these six in particular, and just taking them absolutely without reference to any other context, in general they appear to be an effort to protect exclusionary single detached housing in existing neighborhoods.

Changes to building heights, costly parking mandates, and minimum density are contemplated mainly for areas near the transit core network. 

On the one item for large subdivisions, it's not clear we have thought enough about the penumbra of density and upzoning necessary to make neighborhood hubs successful. Simply dropping a hub into an existing sprawled out neighborhood is no guarantee for success and likely to result in unleased commercial space. Mandating a hub in a new, single detached subdivision does not seem like a recipe for success either.

So as I read it, there remains a NIMBY subtext or residue to many of the concepts: On busy streets we will concentrate change with warehoused multifamily housing and density, but we will work to protect swaths of existing single detached housing from too much change.

It is reasonable, of course, to want to leverage transit's existing core network. But continuing to insulate existing neighborhoods from change, and replicating those 20th century patterns in brand new neighborhoods, is not fully effective and not fully fair. 

Because in an aggregate sense change will be distributed randomly and unevenly, at least over shorter durations, we should cast the net as widely as possible in order to capture as many favorable changes as possible. When we restrict change to only along the transit core network, we will miss opportunities and likely create a suboptimal amount of change.

But in general, if we are serious about meeting our climate goals, the structure here is a little ad hoc and pays insufficient attention to effectiveness and to a full suite of policy actions.

Fairview hasn't met a lot of its lofty ideals (2004)

Probably we should also have more of a review and analysis of the Fairview project. It should have been something of a template and model for what we are trying now to do. Why has it not developed in as sustainable a mode as was originally planned? Why hasn't more middle housing been built there? The same kinds of zoning mandates or guidelines that did not seem to work there may also not work more generally in Salem. It's not exactly a failure, but we are not using that project as enough of a laboratory and case study (To a lesser extent, the project on the North Campus of OSH was also supposed to be more forward-looking, and it reverted to 20th century types with single detached homes and three story walkup apartment blocks set on a parking lot. Our Salem and our Climate Action Plan should be more explicitly self-aware about lessons from these projects.)

With the subcommittee being half from the Planning Commission, those who work in development may also suss out unintended consequences or inefficiencies, and it's probably a good thing to subject the concepts to critique from this angle. But we can't lose sight of the fact that we have a real goal to reduce actual pollution by 50% in 2035, not merely to write nice words that will signal our lofty intent, and that will require real change.


Anonymous said...

Something you don't point out on Fairview is that time gap between the original plan from 2004 and our moment today is the VERY SAME gap as between now and that 2035 milestone.

If change over that 15 year period is not enough, what are we doing differently today to accelerate change over a new 15 year period?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You are right to highlight this. Thanks. What happened in that previous 15 year window really underscores how we need to proceed differently in the next 15 year window.

The State Street study is also relevant. The rezoning (and stuff) there hasn't prompted meaningful redevelopment yet. We might say "oh, that takes time," but a conclusion might be to reassess and think about further steps necessary to prompt faster movement.

There isn't much sign we are looking at the past decade or two to see what works, what doesn't, and to iterate further on those measures.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Now that we are getting down to actual parcels of property that the City Planning staff is designating for rezoning, the whole issue of Our Salem and the Climate Action Plan goals to reduce GHG is heating up.

Neighbors and property owners do not like a lot of what they are seeing, but beyond that, the success of some of the goals are very suspect, in my opinion.

One such policy that is being proposed is around reducing parking for different zones. Unfortunately, when you look at the locations (actual verses theoretical) here is where the rub comes. Most multifamily, HUBs and R4 zones are being proposed on collectors, arterials and along Core Networks (bus lines). This concept is that people will park on the street, or around the corner from the homes, apartments, or shops. Trouble is that almost all collectors, arterials and Core Network streets have bike lanes where no parking is allowed. Parking 'around the corner' or a side street is often not possible in many places. I urge those who disagree to actually look at individual properties.

Example in my neighborhood is to make all of the properties from Sunnyview Road NE to Brown Road NE into R4 zone. Problem is the only nearby streets are Hollywood or Brown Road. Both of those streets are collectors or arterials with bike lanes. So there is no on street parking within a reasonable distance and there exists a 'you can't get there from here situation.' I have not driven it, but on the maps it looks like about a half mile until you can reach a side street. I ask you, who is going to shop at a business where you park on a neighborhood side street a half a mile away and then walk there? And who would want strangers parking on their neighborhood street to accommodate a business that far away?

A hard look needs to be given by many more people than me. It's not about NIMBY, its about who will risk an investment in a business without parking, and who will want to invest in an apartment complex, no matter how small, if no one can have a car? or friends?

The goal of the Our Salem is not just about having a document to show the State, but to actually ensure enough land is available so that we will get development that is needed for grow and to (maybe) keep prices down. If a rezone can't be used, it is useless for meeting the goal.

I suggested that R4 be just an option with no actual zones placed on any properties at this time. That way, if there is a parcel which can meet the code requirements, a property owner could apply for a zone change at reduced fees.

Also, we need to think hard about HUBs. I am not opposed to them. Two were suggested in my neighborhood. One makes sense because there are already a couple of businesses there. In the past there were more and strengthening that concept seems logical and harmonious, if it is in scale to the area. But the other one is just plunked down at an intersection in a developed single family subdivision. Yes, there is a bus route that goes by the corner, but there are other features that the planners knew nothing a curve in the road that creates sight distance issues and yes, bike lanes where you can't park. Again we need a much closer look at such locations and a clear criteria for placement.

Oh, and on the issue of criteria, I found out that right now there isn't any written criteria for placement of HUBs or R4 zones. What?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

When I was on the committee that re-zoned over 300 acres to RM back in 1995, we spent 2 years on the project. Now we are doing it in a few months. First, thing we did was to set goals, then looked at developing a criteria. After we had a criteria we could identify specific parcels. When that was completed staff talked to property owners, and only then did we finalize a proposal that went out for public hearings. Even then Council ended up taking almost 100 acres out of the rezoning (in West and South Salem) process.

The separation of policy discussions from the actual rezoning process seems unwise. It's sort of like the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. The only common denominator is staff and that puts a filter on information that is bothersome to me.

Public confidence is key to successful implementation.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Another piece that might be missing based on my conversations with staff is doing a 'reality check.' This is where you ask, if we do this here, will someone be able to build there? An essential factor in the calculation is what you said, 'does it pencil out'? If you can't make it pay, why would you build? Developers are not in the charity business. They need to be able to build in Salem for a profit, or they will go somewhere else. Your example of Independence is a good example of this factor.

I want to see Our Salem be effective, but even more important to me is that we create options that will help meet housing needs. I am not sure we are going to get there this time at all....and we don't have another 25 years to waste.

Thank you to BBOB for the continued oversight!