Monday, June 28, 2021

Aesthetics of Sustainability and the still-Missing Middle at Fairview

Not exactly buried, but not top-of-mind either because of the heat wave, on Council's agenda are a couple of information items about the Fairview redevelopment that deserve a little notice.

Changes to the Village Center concept

The more interesting item, if perhaps less consequential, is a minor amendment to the Fairview Refinement Plan for Pringle Creek Community.

It appears that there have been further sales, not just to home owners, but to developers, and the ownership is more fragmented, and some of the criticism of the plan may represent a subtext of conflict over this rather than debate on the substance of the plan itself. The thing is a little murky, but it does not seem essential to investigate more.

Substantively, the bulk of the criticism seems to be focused on changes to the Village Center concept.

The Village Center area - via FB

The Village Center area has some grassy commons, the Painters Hall, the Root Hall, a covered pavillion that was used for wood storage I believe, and a couple of other buildings. Non-residents will know it most for Painters Hall, which has operated a cafe some times.

In criticism of the amendments, one resident focuses on cars and parking:

Parcel 3 encompasses the Village Green area. In the original planning, this is supposed to be a community gathering area with small retail that benefits the community as a whole with living spaces above for business owners....increasing the maximum residential units from 13 to 95 in this parcel will potentially eliminate the Village Green area and jeopardize the economic and business/retail opportunities, which reduces the overall communal livability....Considering an average of 4 to 5 trips per day per residence, adding an additional 82 units over the original 13 will increase potential trip generations by approximately 350 per day or more. This added load to the existing road network is unacceptable in terms of congestion and potential safety issues along Village Center Drive. In addition to the added vehicle traffic, where will the additional 80 to 150 cars park? It is unrealistic to think each residence will have only one vehicle or no vehicle.

And in a more general comment another resident writes about the total number of homes:

I have been living in the misunderstanding that development at PCC was limited to the 146 units of residential parcels of land plus commercial development at the Center. I now see that the limit of units was more than twice that many. Frankly it has been a shock. While happy that there would be shops, I never envisioned an apartment building there with many residents and their cars....It is incumbent on the HOA, with the city’s protective measures, to ensure that safety, sustainability, aesthetic design, community care and comaraderie are promoted and maintained. With the advent of climate change and the pandemic, the city must look at and update its rules on density, green space, air and water quality and quantity, public transportation, etc., to preserve sustainability.

Small "Local access only" and "no trespassing" sign
A year ago in the Pandemic

At the start of the Pandemic, before we understood that outdoor transmission was low risk, Pringle Creek Community lowered the gates, posting "no trespassing" signs at street entrances, making clear the streets were private. "Keep out" and "locals only" were the messages.

As we work through climate response in Our Salem and a Climate Action Plan, we should give more serious attention to some of the exclusionary ways that we define "sustainability." With both Pringle Creek Community and Fairview addition, sustainability is not so much about emissions reductions, but is about a kind of green luxury with open space and trees, big houses, and not too many neighbors. We see this elswhere with calls for more parks, more trees, more open space, and in various anti-density discourses. This understanding of sustainability privileges aesthetics over function, and deserves more attention.

It is not all wrong, as trees and open space are truly important, but in the total context of our climate crisis, the balance is off.

At Fairview, phase 2 of The Grove (yellow added)

The Grove, Phase Two

Separately, the Planning Commission approved phase two of The Grove, 183 apartments in three-story walk-up blocks, set on a parking lot. This is the usual template for Salem.

The Planning Commission did deny part of the request to cut down more trees, and also allowed some more suburban style in street frontage and lot coverage.

This could be anywhere - via The Grove

But it does not seem important to drill into detail as if small, marginal adjustments would make any great difference. 

The overall plan makes the drift towards a conventional development quite clear. These could be anywhere, and no longer represent the animating spirit of the original plan for reuse and sustainability.

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

The Middle is Still Missing

At both Pringle Creek Community and at the Grove, and elsewhere throughout the Fairview redevelopment in the other parcels, Missing Middle size housing is still missing. 

Some of the projects have focused on single detached housing. Others on large, templated apartment blocks in the suburban mode. The developers - and they might say, rightly or wrongly, market demand - have made no meaningful progress on any commercial center or on any middle housing.

The project has drifted quite a ways from the original vision as published in 2004.

As we consider Our Salem, we should look more forensically at the total Fairview project and ask what things have worked, what hasn't, and what we need to do differently if we want an outcome that more nearly corresponds to the vision from 2004.

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