On Monday night Salem City Council approved a detailed plan to revitalize State Street. The vote was met with satisfaction by some neighbors and disappointment by others.
One of many who finds the decision a sound compromise is Nancy McDaniel, land use chair of the Northeast Neighbors Neighborhood Association (NEN). “I’m delighted by the Council’s decision,” she says. “I don’t think the current condition of State Street does much for surrounding neighborhoods.”
Less contented Is neighbor Roger Hull, a retired Willamette University professor who believes that City Council acted in good faith “but also in haste after several hours of quite detailed testimony.” Hull says that the facts and proposals “presented in carefully prepared and researched testimony warranted further staff assessment.”
The State Street Corridor Plan has been in the works for years. With the goal of making a more vibrant, walkable, mixed-use corridor out of State Street, (east from 12th Street all the way to 25th), it began in 2013, when the two neighborhood associations (NEN and Southeast Salem Neighborhood Association) identified the corridor as an opportunity area.
In response, from late 2015 through late 2017, the City partnered with neighbors, businesses, developers and Planning Commission representatives to develop, evaluate and refine alternatives. The street was divided into 5 separate zones, each with their own assets and issues. City staff invested thousands of hours in identifying issues and finding possible solutions to balancing needs of many different entities. The resulting Plan was presented, twice to the Planning Commission and after recommendations by staff – finally to Council.
These years of industry were funded by several entities, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Federal Highway Administration.
The Plan approved by Council on Monday brings desirable features to the neighborhood and the city itself, including a more consistent street design, new multi-use zoning to promote multi-story mixed-use buildings and a road design for safer pedestrian crossings.
“State Street Corridor Plan will provide zoning to make State Street safer for pedestrians and bicycles,” says Lynn Takata, NEN Chair, “and will support vibrant retail and mixed-use development that with thoughtful design can benefit our neighborhoods and the city.”
But few plans benefit everyone. Neighbors disappointed in the approved plan say not enough consideration was given to the development’s impact on some of those who live closest to it. They say harm was caused that might have been addressed – but wasn’t, while they hold out hope their concerns may still be considered.
Running just to the north of the State Street Corridor for several blocks – abutting it – is a unique residential area included in the National Register of Historic Places. The Court Chemeketa Residential District is the major intact remnant of Salem’s original central residential area, about 12 blocks on about 39 acres, within which most of the houses were built between 1860-1937.
The neighbors living in these houses found that the proposed building height of 55’ feet provided by the plan on State Street to the south would significantly reduce sunlight on their property because of shadows cast by the newly constructed buildings. Although the City’s Plan provided some mitigation of the impacts, “the fact is,” says neighbor Bonnie Hull, “that a neighborhood of historic single- and two-family residences would be immediately adjacent to a row of buildings with more stories than many in Salem’s downtown core.”
Neighbors asked for several adjustments to the Plan, including decreasing new construction from 55’ (five-story buildings, mere yards from their properties) to 45’ (four stories).
“We are not trying to stop the project, only to mitigate the impact on a historic resource,” Hull says.
Two development zones were considered for the street and incorporated into the final plan; Mixed Use-1 Zone and Mixed Use-2 Zone. MU-1 provides primarily multi-story mixed-use buildings that have retail or office on the ground floor and housing or office use on the upper floors.MU-2 allows multifamily housing and mixed-use buildings.
But although only the two zones were used in the Plan, the federal grant allowed for the possibility of other Multiple Use zones in the area. Neighbor Juliana Inman asked the City “to consider adding at least an MU-3 zone to address the issues of shading of existing residential structures and property” as well as zone-to-zone setbacks between developed areas and residential ones and historic alley protection. She also recommended, “adding language to the ‘purpose’ section of all zones so that when they abut residential districts, the impacts on residential properties are mitigated.”
During Monday’s hearing, Hazel Patton, historic preservationist and Salem’s 65thFirst Citizen voiced her concerns, noting, “while there is so much to celebrate with this State Street Plan, there are many valid concerns” and urged the Council to “preserve one or our historic assets by changing the proposed zoning on the north side of State Street.”
Roger Hull told Council that to include MU-3 zoning on certain portions of the north side of State Street, replacing them with MU-3 zoning where the Plan is most intrusive for neighbors “would mitigate if not entirely solve the issues that concern us.”
Every Historic District neighbor who submitted testimony or addressed Council emphasized they valued the good the revitalization would bring, even at the cost to them of additional traffic and other impacts.
As neighbor Bonnie Hull says, “we are not obstructionists.”
Neighbor Tom O’Connor assured Council that the neighbors were business-friendly and development friendly, and had even helped development interests solve problems as the process moved forward.
Endorsing the idea of “win win win,” O’Connor asked Council, “give us a win as well. Don’t take away our livability and put us in shadow.”
When neighbor John Mangini addressed Council, he said he was impressed “with the people who live in the area; they’re not standing up and saying, ‘not in my backyard’; they’re saying, ‘yes – literally in my backyard’. They’re asking for very little.”
Neighbors also believe that a critical step of the process was skipped. Because State Street is a State Highway, the project is within the purview of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and ODOT guidelines call for a Section 106 review of potential impacts of highway projects on historic resources.
“But no such review was performed,” says neighbor John Poole, who filed a lawsuit on the matter in United States District Court. His suit, Poole says, “attempts to ensure that the federal requirement of assessing impacts … on historic resources is observed as required by law.” The matter is now pending.
The Monday hearing was lengthy. The City’s presentation, the remarks of citizens, the questions of councilors and
discussions took more than 3 ½ hours.
Towards the end, Ward 2 Councilor Tom Andersen proposed a successful amendment that, as well as requiring fewer parking spaces per square foot of development and recommended exploring a park purchase idea – lowered the height of buildings that abutted the Historic District from 55’ to 50’.
The compromise to a 5-story building disappointed neighbors, who nonetheless remain hopeful for the future.
“The council members listened and courageously voted in a visionary plan for the city,” reflects O’Connor. “At the same time the council missed an opportunity to fully support the Court Chemeketa Residential Historic District.”
Hull says, “We are hoping that further discussion will occur.”