The developers of Pringle Square -- who propose rental apartments and a nursing home on Salem's downtown riverfront -- walked into a concerned citizen hornet's nest with their ill-advised plan to gain access to their property by taking over part of much-beloved Riverfront Park.
Let's marvel at how poorly Mountain West Investment and its developer spinoff, Minto View LLC, has handled things.
First, the old Boise Cascade property is bought without the buyers knowing how they were going to be able to access the portion of the land west of the railroad tracks. Most people who buy land want to have the access question settled first.
But Minto View LLC had a backward attitude, which has gotten them into well-deserved problems. Yesterday local architect Geoffrey James released a terrific analysis of Pringle Square, "Access to Boise Property: The Solution."
Here's what James has to say about the developer's backwardness.
Normally a developer ensures he has ACCESS first, before proceeding with detailed designs. The "Team" were so anxious to take up council time by talking at length (a series of consultants) about the detailed design of the apartments. The Mayor was right that the basic question to start with is ACCESS and explain why the access through the park is claimed to be the only way. However, in this case, the applicant proceeded with detailed Site Plan Review etc. BEFORE confirming access.
They should have confirmed that a NORTH access was permitted before hiring an expensive team of consultants to do a detailed design, possibly ready for building permit processing. A very backwards way of project management, but possibly a high stakes poker game, i.e. having a development designed and ready to go, assuming the Chamber [of Commerce] could help them get a park access anyway.
They did not count on the Public being awake, enlightened, and perceptive. They will not get away with that ploy. There IS access available, in a way that the Carousel and Riverfront Park is not violated.
Yes, there is. Several ways, in fact. Ways that don't require the City of Salem having to go back on its agreement to keep Riverfront Park in public outdoor recreation use in perpetuity.
There is no need to hand over part of the Carousel parking lot so the Pringle Square developer can build a private access road through it. Most of the people who testified at last Monday's City Council meeting were appropriately outraged by this attempted public land grab.
Which is completely unnecessary.
Minto Brown LLC and Mountain West Investment are trying to make the Carousel parking lot takeover into a "my way or the highway" deal. If the City doesn't allow access to the Pringle Square apartments through the parking lot, they threaten that the entire development plan could collapse, because there is no other viable access route.
To put it bluntly, that's bullshit. Here's why I say that.
For one, James presents a detailed plan for access through a Bellevue Street railroad crossing.
The attached aerial map shows the Pringle Square complex entrance to be at Bellevue SE. You turn right to enter the Mixed Use development of the old mill, with parking at its lower levels, and commercial leased retail office space above, and residential units above, and added on the south (Bellevue) side.
You drive straight ahead and cross the tracks at that existing railroad crossing and drive through the Slough parking lot. Location of the proposed bridge (see above) will be where it needs to connect to the apartment interior parking lots, so maybe close to the tracks. That solves the Access Issue, and still allows the apartment development to proceed.
For two, the Pringle Square Access web site shows a plan that assures emergency access via Bellevue Street and a current railroad underpass on the Pringle Square property. (A backup route is needed in case a train blocks a railroad crossing into the apartments.)
Main public access to the property would be off of Front Street. Thus there would be no need to mess with the Riverfront Park Carousel parking lot. And the safety of people visiting the park.
With the current proposal, all carousel traffic would be forced to exit via the apartment complex driveway. This would further traffic congesting through this small access.
If access is granted, 900+ additional vehicles EVERYDAY will pass directly through the Carousel entrance. In the event of an emergency, if the Carousel entrance is blocked by a train, Salem’s Emergency Responders would have to use the path through the park as an alternative emergency route. If that happens, Emergency Responders will have to choose between rushing to an emergency or driving slowly to protect the safety of park users.
Even though Pringle Square developers plan to reduce the size of the south parking lot by 30%, they say they will add seven new spaces and reconfigure it. That’s true, but here’s how they plan to do it:
1. They will eliminate the center island which currently serves as a safety refuge and allows parents to unload strollers, coolers, diaper bags, and other equipment before unbuckling small children from their car seats.
2. They will designate nearly half of the spaces as “compact” parking.
3. They will add spaces in front of the 1,200 square foot retail space next to the apartments. (Bear in mind the retailer will have the option to post “Reserved” signs, which would make those spaces off limits to park visitors)
A much better alternative is for the City of Salem to apply for a new public railroad crossing on the Pringle Square property. I've learned that nothing prevents the City from doing this; there is no requirement in state law or rule that opening up a new railroad crossing requires the closing of an old one.
Yet proponents of the development keep insinuating (or outright claiming) that the popular State Street pedestrian and vehicle railroad crossing into the park would have to be closed if a new crossing was built on the Pringle Square property.
Almost certainly, not true.
Go ahead and apply for a crossing, City of Salem, in concert with the developer and railroad. Make the developer access the apartments via private Pringle Square property, not public Riverfront Park property. If the estimated $500,000 cost of a crossing is too much for Minto View LLC, maybe it shouldn't be trying to build a $17 million apartment complex.
Meaning, if spending less than 3% of the project budget is going to make the apartments, a.k.a. The Residences at Riverfront Park, financially infeasible, maybe this isn't the right development for Salem's one and only downtown riverfront.
It's imperative to re-develop the Boise Cascade property right the first time, because there won't be a second chance.
How much is protecting the treasure of Riverfront Park worth? How much is protecting children and others who use the Carousel parking lot worth? At next Monday's City Council meeting, we'll learn how Salem's political leadership answer these questions.
Email them some advice: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Update: The always-interesting Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog had a recent post that presented a variation on the Pringle Square Access approach described above. I wrote about that plan in "Salem's Pringle Square development needs more creative planning." My main concern with it is that pedestrian access to the apartments across a bridge isn't enough. Nicely bike and walking-centric, but not really practical.]