Please, Salem (Oregon) City Council. Pretty please.
Don't allow the beautiful property in south Salem to become less than the world-class Green development that Sustainable Fairview currently is zoned as.
A few days ago I learned that the Salem Planning Commission is OK with turning the undeveloped portion of the property from a vibrant green to a blah gray, architecturally speaking. On May 14 the City Council meets to decide whether to allow Simpson Hills, LLC to build a bunch of typical apartments on 43 of the 104 acres it owns at the site that used to house the Fairview Training Center. This is the big picture of Sustainable Fairview. Pringle Creek Community, a genuinely Green development, is located in the jagged outcropping at the top of the green-outlined boundary of Sustainable Fairview.
Simpson Hills, LLC owns the property at the bottom, lots 1-5. The white area is to be developed in the future. The area just above, lots 1-3, are inaccurately termed the "Refinement Plan Boundary." Refinement, I guess, is how planners refer to modifying existing zoning criteria.
I'd say Demolishment would be a more fitting term in this case. Here's a close-up look at the plan for lots 1-3.
Yes, it's largely colored green. But that's about the extent of its Green'ness, sustainability-wise.
These lots are planned to house typical three story apartment buildings. Even though current Sustainable Fairview zoning requires LEED standards, Simpson Hills, LLC doesn't want to make the apartments any greener or more environmentally sound than the usual Salem zoning requires.
When Simpson Hills, LLC bought 104 acres of the Sustainable Fairview property, the buyers knew that this was, duh..., a sustainable development with especially sustainable zoning regulations that had been approved by the City of Salem quite a few years ago.
The vision of the Sustainable Fairview Master Plan, for example, included having highly energy-efficient homes; all stormwater captured on site; minimal emphasis on cars/roads; varied types of housing; mixed uses on site so people could "live, work, and play" in a conveniently compact area.
Disappointingly, Simpson Hills, LLC now wants to back off substantially from those laudable goals.
Note the expanse of gray in the plan for lots 1-3 above. Those are parking lots and roads. Lots of lots. Lots of roads. The rain water that runs off them, which will be lots, is planned to end up in the holding pond shown on the right of the drawing. Then all the water will go into Pringle Creek.
Pringle Creek Community, by contrast, has permeable asphalt and other ways of capturing stormwater. And the original plans for Sustainable Fairview envisioned limited "obvious" parking, with cars sequestered behind dwelling units, rather than prominently parked front and center.
The Morningside Neighborhood Association, which represents those already living in the area, isn't thrilled with the Simpson Hills, LLC "refinement" plan.
Geoffrey James, an architect, heads up the association's land use committee. He's put together an excellent critique of the proposed development which can be read here. It starts off with:
Fairview Hills is a current proposal by a developer for the southern ownership [portion of the Fairview property,i.e. the old Fairview Training Center, that was sold by the State of Oregon in 2008 [actually, 2002], and is supposed (by ordinance) to be a Sustainable, Green, and Low Impact Development. Unfortunately, conventional apartments are currently proposed, with conventional parking lots. A public hearing on this is before Salem City Council on Monday, May 14. Morningside Neighborhood Association is the neighborhood, and the Executive Board passed a motion unanimously, that is opposed to this development.
Attachment 7 in this (large) collection of documents related to the Simpson Hills, LLC proposal is a memo from Sustainable Fairview Associates (SFA), the organization which bought the Fairview Training Center property from the State of Oregon.
If anybody knows how Sustainable Fairview should be developed, it is SFA. And SFA also isn't happy with how Simpson Hills, LLC is trying to cut corners on cutting-edge sustainability/green'ness. In the memo Sam Hall, SFA Managing Member, told the City of Salem:
We are generally supportive of the plan to develop apartments on the site, but there is little evidence that their plan for apartments at Fairview is different from the projects they say they have done many times before on properties all over the country. We see very little understanding or recognition of the goals of the Master Plan and the nature of the Fairview site.
This should be a no-brainer for the Salem Planning Commission and City Council.
Simpson HIlls, LLC shouldn't be allowed to breeze into town with a cookie-cutter proposal for the Sustainable Fairview property that maximizes profits for themselves and minimizes Salem's chance to have a world class Green development.
Salem Weekly, our city's alternative newspaper, has exposed how the Planning Commission is unfairly (and possibly illegally) comprised: five out of seven members have strong ties to real estate development.
So its no surprise that a short-sighted Chamber of Commerce mentality at odds with the Sustainable Fairview Master Plan has led the Planning Commission to recommend approval of the Simpson Hills application. It's up to the City Council to stop the madness.
Frequently I critique Salem's blah'ness on this blog. There's a good reason Oregon's capital is nicknamed "So-lame." Often, it is.
Sustainable Fairview is a non-lame flash of creativity, innovation, excitement, and world-class Green design that needs to be nurtured, not crushed by a Simpson HIlls, LLC proposal which seeks to markedly diminish those qualities.
Geoffrey James put it nicely in his critique of the ill-considered development plans:
Why was the area described by the Fairview Master plan meant to be different than other areas of Salem? What is the value of a "sustainable" community or neighborhood?
It is intended to be a new kind of neighborhood for those who live and work in Salem, that will foster innovative land development and transportation practices. create a strong yet dynamic sense of community, stimulate and create new employment opportunities, demonstrate the efficient use of both natural and human resources,preserve a healthy environment for people, nature, and business, protect nature and develop new techniques for integrating the natural and built environments, use resources to meet the needs of this generation while conserving them for future generations, encourage creative ideas, products, and processes, and share them with other communities and developments, and be a focal point for the growing effort to achieve a balanced,sustainable future.
The distinction of the project is it is becoming a magnet for people out of state wanting to relocate to a community that values sustainability. Protecting the standards of the project will ensure a differentiated project that would attract new people and new talent to Salem, in particular young professionals from out of state. Additionally, for recruitment, such a distinct housing offering will help our large employers attract top talent to Salem, rather than lose workers to other cities or to Portland. Several thousands of workers live in Portland and commute to Salem each day because they believe Portland has a better quality of life. Offering a well- designed housing option in Salem may lure these workers to live in Salem, and spend their money here rather than in Portland.
It'd be crazy if the Salem City Council said "OK" to building a bunch of oh-so-average apartments on the Sustainable Fairview property that are indistinguishable from apartments on Liberty Road, Commercial Street, Wallace Road, or many other places in our town.
Sustainable Fairview is designed to be special. Simpson Hills, LLC wants it to be nothing-special. Why? Apparently because the corporation thinks it will make more money by offering an average housing product, rather than an exceptional housing product.
Well, Salem has enough average.
Let's continue to aim for exceptional with Sustainable Fairview, as the Pringle Creek Community is doing, and which I assume SFA intends to do with the portion of the property it still owns.
Hold fast to the Fairview Master Plan and current zoning, Salem City Council. Don't settle for average.
(The Breakfast on Bikes blog has a good post about the Simpson Hills, LLC proposal. Give it a read. I heartily agree with the concluding words: "Salem has plenty of conventional development. The City of Salem should give that Master Plan a fair trial and square deal. Is it really necessary to water it down from the start?")