After watching the Salem (Oregon) City Council, Mayor, and City Manager make a series of really bad decisions, I'm worried that the council meeting next Monday, July 14, will result in another screwed-up vote.
This time, to overturn the unanimous HIstoric Landmarks Commission decision to deny Salem Hospital's request to demolish Howard Hall, a Salem Historic Landmark that was part of the Oregon School for the Blind before it closed.
Salem Community Vision is calling on people to come to the meeting and tell the councilors, Save Howard Hall.
Please mark your calendar and plan to attend the Salem City Council meeting on Monday, July 14th at 6:30 p.m.where the demolition of a designated Local Salem Landmark is on the agenda for a public hearing and Council action
Salem Community Vision opposes the demolition of Howard Hall on the former Oregon School for the Blind property now owned by Salem Hospital. We agree with the Salem Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) that voted 6 - 0 with one abstention in June to deny Salem Hospital's application to tear down Howard Hall.
The HLC found that the application from Salem Hospital did not meet three of the four requirements necessary for them to approve the application. Salem Hospital did not show that ...
• The value to the community of the proposed use of the property outweighs the value of retaining the designated historic resource on the present site.
• The designated historic resource is not capable of generating a reasonable economic return and the demolition is economically necessary.
• No prudent and feasible alternative exists to rehabilitate and reuse the designated resource in its present location.
Salem Community Vision will ask the City Council to uphold the decision of the HLC, and we will suggest that Salem Hospital needs to reissue a Request for Proposals to re-purpose Howard Hall in a way that will benefit the Hospital and the community.
Here's a six-point summary of what concerns me.
(1) An approval decision could already have been made. Mayor Peterson is wrongly proud of her "consensus" city councilors. Meaning, they usually vote without much discussion in lockstep, obviously having reached a decision before a public meeting even occurs. This violates the spirit of Oregon's public meeting law, if not the letter of it.
(2) The City Council "called up" the Historic Landmarks Commission denial for review. I'm a long-time land use activist. I've never seen this before -- an appeal body deciding to review a land use decision on its own, without an aggrieved party appealing (in this case, Salem Hospital). This looks really bad. And, as noted in (1), it may be really bad. The fix could be in.
(3) A City staff report recommending reversal of the Historic Landmarks Commission decision was written by the same person who initially recommended approval of Salem Hospital's application. Namely, Kimberli Fitzgerald. This isn't immediately obvious, since the staff report to the Mayor and City Council is through City Manager Norris, from Community Development Director Glenn Gross, signed by Urban Planning Administrator LIsa Anderson-Olgivie, and, lastly, prepared by Senior HIstoric Planner Kimberli Fitzgerald. Yes, the same person who made the same points in a staff report to the HIstoric Landmarks Commission (HLC) before the commission voted 6-0 to reject the staff recommendation and deny Salem Hospital's demolition request. Again, this looks really bad -- to not have a new person take a fresh look at the application prior to the City Council review of the HLC decision.
(4) Salem Health, which runs Salem Hospital, isn't a warm and fuzzy bunch of local doctors and nurses. This shouldn't come as news to anyone: health care is big business these days, as it has been for a long time. I worked in health planning/policy analysis for quite a few years in the 70's and 80's. The corporatization of health care was well along then; it is much more evident now. Salem Health is a large corporation with lots of employees and lots of political influence. Its motives need to be viewed as skeptically as those of any other large corporation.
(5) Salem Hospital already has demolished one adaptive playground for a parking lot. The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog has done some great reporting on this issue, pointing out that while Salem Hospital currently touts its plan to replace Howard Hall with an adaptive playground for "alter-abled" children, they tore down another adaptive playground that was part of Bush School when the hospital took the property over for a parking lot (see #4 above).
Last month there was a history note in the paper, and it turns out there's some relevant recent history in it.
The Hospital has already demolished one adaptive playground for a parking lot!
You'd think that if the Hospital were so sure of the vast community value in an adaptive playground, they would have taken greater efforts to preserve the first one or at least to rebuild it elsewhere nearby.
But there's another history here. In the first round of urban renewal and hospital expansion, Salem lost a bunch of great old houses along Oak Street to the east of the hospital. A couple were relocated elsewhere in the city, but most were demolished.
The Albert House, in which Myra Albert Wiggins grew up,was another one.
The Hospital has a clear pattern of demolishing things in the neighborhood for its parking lots, clinics, and additional hospital buildings.
It's the soybeans, wheat, and second-growth of urban monoculture.
The same impulse, the same paradigm, in fact, that gives rise to antibiotic resistant bacteria - think about the parallels on micro- and macro-scales! It all started out innocently enough, but we've now learned there are big problems with the ostensible "efficiency" of systems that suppress diversity.
Yeah, diversity. On the Blind School parcel, there's still plenty of room for a playground and garden adjacent to a preserved Howard Hall.
We should remember that the plan includes an application for 87 parking stalls above the maximum permitted by Salem's already generous code.
If the Hospital is serious about a playground, they can site it where the 87 stalls would go, preserving Howard Hall for future generations and turning back from an excess of surface parking.
Above it all, though, we should remember that cities are complex organisms, and like biological organisms and systems, they function best with elements of diversity and jumble. Long term success sometimes requires things that look like short-term inefficiency.
A monoculture of parking lots and cars, and of single-use institutional campuses, is harmful, in more ways than one.
(6) Howard Hall has significance for the blind community. Here's a letter to the editor that appeared in the Statesman Journal.
Download Howard Hall has significance for the blind community
Your Sunday, June 22, editorial, deceptively titled “Honor the history of Howard Hall,” was demeaning and dismissive toward the entire blind community. The piece stereotypes blind and visually impaired people as ignorant and helpless.
As a totally blind individual, I strongly object to the editorial’s characterization of Howard Hall. The idea that we would not be able to appreciate Howard Hall if it were restored or that restoring the building “would do nothing for blind Oregonians” is ludicrous.
I attended the Oregon School for the Blind for many years and my room was in Howard Hall. I went on to attend Lewis and Clark College and became a businesswoman.
Howard Hall is a culturally and architecturally significant work. This building is Salem’s only known building that was designed by Oregon’s famous architect John V. Bennes. It is clear to me that Salem has torn down too much of its history.
Speaking as a former president of the American Council of the Blind of Oregon, I and most of my colleagues support the Salem Historic Landmarks Commission’s finding that the Salem Hospital has not submitted a plan that replaces the significance of Howard Hall as a historical and cultural landmark.
-- Beverly Rushing