Friday, September 9, 2022

City Council, September 12th - A Plan for Twenty is Plenty and Speed Humps

When the City wants some change, but not too much change, an order for "mild, not too spicy" from the transportation planning menu, DKS has seemed to be the consultant of choice.

Pedestrian Safety Study

Recommendation: Reconsider jaywalking laws

You may recall when in 2017 DKS authored the Pedestrian Safety Study and recommended a revival of jaywalking laws. 

They have not seemed like the most progressive consulting firm out there, not always very passionate about non-auto travel. In that passage on jaywalking, you'll note the false equivalence: "illegal and aggressive behavior by both drivers and pedestrians."

Council meets on Monday, and they will hear about the hiring of DKS to write an update to the Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan, responding to Councilor Stapleton's motion for a "Twenty is Plenty" plan and to Councilor Gonzalez' motion for a speed hump and traffic calming plan.

This has seemed to be a pattern by the City. When they could hire a stronger and more progressive firm for walking and rolling, a real move to induce and support fewer drive-alone trips, they have chosen a more conservative and more autoist firm for a more modest and more incremental approach.

The resulting plan won't be awful, but it is nearly certain to be not as bold and strong as it could be.

Earlier this month

This pattern was most starkly visible in a different area, in the choice of consultant for the Climate Action Plan. As it happens, for our new City Manager's first meeting he'll hear an update on that plan. He has seemed to be more interested in action on climate than our previous City Manager, so it will be interesting to see how he engages the process now.

But right off, the Staff Report lacks urgency:

This is a long-term plan (30+ years) designed to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and increase Salem’s resiliency to climate change.

That's technically true, but all the scientists say we have so much need in the next few years. There should be more urgency about the next decade.

The City could do more, but the tone is a little slow-walky.

Many of these strategies are already underway. A few will require new ordinances, additional analysis, or extensive public outreach as part of moving forward, and most require coordination with local, state, and regional partners. Each of the 55 strategies requires staff time to implement. Continued implementation of the CAP strategies will depend upon staffing and budgetary constraints.

It would be great for the new City Manager to make climate action a stronger priority and value. 

(There will be more to say in a separate post on the Climate Action Plan Implementation Committee meeting also on Monday.)

More positively, there was an interesting report on the Design-Build process for the Library. It seemed significant that there were no change orders from the contractor or architect team. The only changes were initiated by the City. They also weathered the Pandemic:

Project construction started right at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in April of 2020. There was a lot of uncertainty regarding whether the project should continue....the decision to continue the work was ultimately the best for the project. [The contractor] was able to stay ahead of important material supply items and keep the overall schedule of the project on track. Similarly...[the project was able to] overcome impacts to the project from severe wildfire smoke in the fall of 2020.

It may be that we don't appreciate enough the adversity and the process behind the Library seismic and improvements.

There are two adjustments on incentives for affordable housing. In part because of the School Board's criticism of property tax abatements for market-rate apartments, the City proposes an adjustment to the MUHTIP.

If approved by the City Council, Ordinance No. 19-22 (Attachment 1-2) will amend SRC 2.825 to require that any project considered for application in the Program meet the following criteria: Required units to be affordable: 15% of total units or 20 units, whichever is greater. Affordability threshold shall be defined as 80% or less of area median income as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This sounds good in theory as a way to induce more affordable housing, but it could also just reduce the number of projects that pencil out and move forward. While on some projects the MUHTIP may be extra slush for the developer, there will also be some on which it is the knife edge between a project penciling out and not. This requirement may reduce the total number of projects that actually move to construction. And at this point in our housing crisis, any and all housing, even "luxury" housing, is good. Council and staff will want to monitor this closely to ensure it is not actually reducing the total number of housing projects in the pipeline.

This is the kind of thing on which Councilor Nishioka's perspective may be particularly useful. 

The other adjustment is to create a more transparent and public process for the new-fangled single-lot TIF District, a micro instance of what used to be called urban renewal funding.

Salem City Council approved its first Single Property TIF District, Jory, in 2020 to provide a financial incentive tool in the form of a property tax rebate for the development of affordable housing....

As the need for affordable housing continues, staff have been approached by multiple developers and property owners interested in a Single Property TIF rebate similar to what was approved for the Jory Apartments. The establishment of threshold guidelines will provide a transparent process outlining the type of eligible projects and criteria for analysis to begin.

It will be interesting to see other projects using this model. (Previously here and here.)

"Streets" at 27th and Marietta

There is an information report on approvals for a 96 apartment affordable housing project on 27th Avenue SE, southeast of the former Hillcrest site and north of Kuebler and Costco. It's hard to understand fully, and there may be more to say later. The approval includes

alternative street standards to eliminate a required street connection to the northern property line [and] a Mid-block Bike/Pedestrian Walkway from the new internal street to the north line of the subject property to connect with the Mid-block Bike/Pedestrian Walkway conditioned under SUB-UGA22-06

There are no internal streets. These are three story walkups on a large parking lot! Even with the Costco to the south, Kuebler is a formidable barrier, and this is not a very walkable and bikeable area. It's very autoist. I'm not sure this really adds up. But without seeing the project on the north boundary, and the way the two projects meet, it's hard to be very definite about anything. And, again, we need affordable housing, so it may not be helpful to make additional requirements.

MU-II zoning outlined

Carved out of the Our Salem project for a separate adoption process is zoning a strip of lots on middle Commercial near the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery. SCAN had asked, and Council granted, that they be zoned MU-II instead of MU-III. The Council agenda item does not include the request from SCAN, and it is difficult to trace what specific qualities in MU-III to which they object. 

For the July 11th Council meeting, the Findings document said

South of Superior Street SE, the majority of properties adjacent to Commercial St. SE in the SCAN neighborhood are zoned CR. Some are also zoned CO and CG. These properties are largely developed with commercial uses, some of which have automobile-oriented development. The Mixed Use-III (MU-III) zone is proposed in these areas because staff is seeking to balance the broad mix of commercial uses currently allowed in this area with the community’s vision for this area to become a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use corridor.

But Staff also indicated they had no objection to MU-II and Council obliged. 

The current Staff Report sketches the difference:

The MU-III zone allows a range of commercial and residential uses, like the MU-II zone, but the MU-III zone allows development and uses that are more automobile-oriented. The MU-II zone encourages development to be pedestrian-oriented through additional design standards that are not required in the MU-III zone.

That sounds good! But it would be nice to know more about SCAN's specific objections to MU-III and how MU-II addresses them. Maybe in an addition to the Council agenda they will have a formal statement.

So at Council are two items:

 And bullets for the rest:


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here is a partial list of recent planning projects on which DKS was the lead. None are awful, though the OR-22 one for ODOT unsurprisingly is worse than the others, but none are really distinguished by a strong priority and passion for non-auto travel. Even the Winter-Maple bikeway study was less than it could have been. "Congestion Relief" is still probably the company forte. Cars first.

Central Salem Mobility Study (2013)
Commercial-Vista Corridor Plan (2016)
Pedestrian Safety Study (2017)
Winter-Maple Bikeway Study (2017)
Congestion Relief Task Force Report (2018)
OR-22 East Salem Facility Plan (ie Mission Street, 2018)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And from a February 2021 letter from SCAN, focusing on height restrictions and on protecting "stable, well maintained" neighborhoods:

"We support the proposed mixed use plan designation for Commercial St. SE that runs through SCAN from Mission St. SE to Vista Ave SE. We recommend the mixed use plan designation be implemented by the Mixed Use-II zone, which has a 55-ft maximum height. We oppose the proposed new Mixed Use-III zone that allows more intensive commercial retail uses with no height restriction.

On the west side of Commercial St. SE mixed uses would be separated from the existing residential zoned properties by only a narrow alley between Commercial St. and Saginaw St. that runs from Mission St to Pioneer Cemetery. Therefore, the lower intensity Mixed Use-II zone is the best fit for this area.

On the east side of Commercial St. SE mixed uses would be adjacent to Commercial Office zoned properties that front onto Liberty St. SE, so either the Mixed Use-I or II zones (or the proposed Mixed Use-III zone) may be appropriate in this area north of Superior. However, south of Superior St, the mixed uses would be adjacent to residential zoned properties where only the Mixed Use-II zone should be used.

For decades existing residential uses, both single family and multi-family, have been buffered from adjacent commercial uses along Commercial St SE by a series of overlay zones. The purpose of these overlay zones is to “minimize the impacts of nonresidential development on existing residential uses.” These overlay zones include Saginaw St Overlay Zone (SRC 625), Superior/Rural Overlay Zone (SRC 621), Oxford/West Nob Hill Overlay Zone (SRC 622), Oxford/Hoyt Overlay Zone (SRC 623), and Hoyt/McGilchrist Overlay Zone (SRC 624)....

These are stable, well maintained residential neighborhoods that we want to see buffered from nonresidential uses into the future. They help achieve Our Salem goals of complete neighborhoods and walkable neighborhoods, because they are near commercial retail and office uses, parks, and schools. The Mixed Use-II zone will complement the purpose of these existing overlay zones better than the Mixed Use-I or III zones.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From a July 2022 letter to City Council from SCAN, hitting mostly the same themes, but with a few slight differences:

"SCAN requests MU-II because it is a more human-scale, slightly less dense alternative to MU-I and MU-III that will be more compatible with adjacent residential uses. None of the adjacent single-family or multi- family uses are over 2-stories high. Most of the adjacent properties between Bush and Myers streets are still in single-family use even though the area is zoned multi-family.

Many multi-family and mixed-use developments of 4-stories or less have been approved recently without City financial support (examples are listed below). Therefore, it appears investors do not require 65 to 70-foot height allowances to build market rate housing in Salem.

In addition, SCAN does not believe MU-III should be used so liberally along the Core Transit Network because it includes many vehicle-related uses that do not need to be along the Core Transit Network, and indeed reduces the potential for the Core Network to support complete neighborhoods not dependent on vehicles.

This issue goes well beyond SCAN and has citywide impact. A sample of vehicle-related uses allowed in the MU-III zone that are not allowed in MU-I or MU-II are listed in SCAN's testimony to City Council for its June 13 hearing.

There might be more to say later. Eliminating new "vehicle-related uses" is a reasonable move, but the reduced height may actually curb housing. At least some of the "4-stories or less" developments are three-story walkups set on large parking lots, not at all a mixed-use typology on a main street. The parties are clear this is a compromise, and it may very well need to be adjusted later.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Also, the MUHTIP changes have been pulled from Council agenda for further work.