"Lie" is a strong word. But it is honest. Straightforward. Direct.
So I'll use it instead of "untruth," "falsity," or some other term for the supposed First Fact in the Pringle Square developer's "Fact Check" ad in today's Salem Statesman Journal.
This is the developer's supposed Myth, which actually is a Fact.
There are other ways to access the apartment site. The developer can construct a new railroad crossing or build a bridge over Pringle Creek.
This is the developer's supposed Fact, which actually is a Myth.
There is no other feasible access to the site. The state has a policy "to eliminate at grade crossings whenever possible." There will be no new crossing without closure of the State Street crossing to the Carousel and park.
Getting cars to a bridge would involve either going through the 100-year floodplain, which is prohibited, or building a tunnel under the railroad tracks large enough for two lanes of traffic and a fire truck. Such a tunnel or a bridge over Pringle Creek is cost-prohibitive for this size and type of development.
I call the statement above a lie. Feel free to say "myth" if you like a weaker word. Here's why I'm confident in saying this.
(1) In 2007 the developer purchased the old Boise Cascade property with the idea of redeveloping it into what is now being called Pringle Square. Rental apartments, a small retail center, and a nursing home are proposed for the first phase.
Would anyone pay millions of dollars for downtown riverfront property without being assured of public access to it? Is it conceivable that the developers and whoever provided the money for buying the property would have said, "Maybe we can get public access to it; maybe we won't; let's buy it anyway."
No individual thinking of buying a single lot to build a home on would be this foolish. For sure, these professional real estate developers weren't. So when they now claim there are no other feasible ways to access the site than by taking over part of the Carousel's parking lot, they are lying.
(2) We know this, because the Carousel proposal is Plan B. The developers did indeed have a Plan A. The City staff report describes it.
The majority of the Waterfront Block is paved and was previously used by Boise Cascade as parking for tractor trailers. During the time it was used by Boise Cascade, the parcel's access was via a private railroad crossing through the Boise Cascade property south of State Street. In a prior development proposal, the Developer proposed to create a new public street and railroad crossing that would have connected Front Street SE to the Waterfront Block and the Riverfront Park south parking lot. The Developer had dedicated the right-of-way for this new public street and Council approved closing the State Street railroad crossing to allow for this new crossing (see Exhibit C of Attachment 1).
A letter from Mark Shipman, the developers' attorney, also describes Plan A.
In order to accommodate early designs for development on the Waterfront parcel and the North Block, the City obtained a permit from ODOT for a new, at-grade railroad crossing between the two parcels. See Exhibit "E." The crossing required new right of way dedication for public streets to the new crossing. See Exhibit "F." A condition of ODOT's permit for the new crossing was closure of the existing, at-grade railroad crossing at State Street to Riverfront Park and the Carousel. Subsequently, general consensus was against closure of the existing rail crossing at State Street. The new crossing was not constructed, and the ODOT permit for the new crossing was allowed to expire.
Thus there is indeed feasible access to the site: a new Front Street railroad crossing.
Approval was granted for the crossing. This was the developer's own Plan A. It wasn't put into effect, in part because at that time the Rail Division/ODOT wanted to close the existing railroad crossing at State Street leading to the Carousel parking lot. A public outcry, as I recall, led to the shelving of this idea.
(3) However, nothing prevents the City of Salem from making a fresh application to the Rail Division for a new Front Street crossing. But, ooh!, what about that scary quote in the supposed "fact" section?: The State has a policy "to eliminate at grade crossings whenever possible."
Well, I Googled that quote.
I was led to a 2012 ODOT Development Review document. And a section which doesn't say at all what the Pringle Square developers want us to believe. I've boldfaced the language to pay attention to.
1.3.11. Railroad-Highway Crossing Safety Rules and Regulations of the Rail Division
ODOT Rail Division implements standards and procedures to manage the safety of rail facilities and rail crossings to the degree necessary to maintain functional use, crossing safety, and the preservation of public investment consistent with the 2001 Oregon Rail Plan (http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/RAIL/docs/Publications/railplan01.pdf?ga=t ).
Relevant statues and rules are ORS 823/824 and OAR 741 Divisions 100, 105, 110, 115, 120, 125 and 200. This authority requires a public road authority or railroad to file an application for a Crossing Order with the ODOT Rail Division for permission to construct a new separated or at-grade crossing, make alterations to an existing public crossing, or to close an existing public crossing. The ODOT Rail Division is in agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration in its efforts to close crossings wherever possible. The Division is required by statute to eliminate crossings at grade wherever possible. Find more information about Rail Division programs online at: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/RAIL/Pages/About_Us.aspx.
Pretty damn clear.
The City of Salem can file an application to construct a new at-grade crossing. It could also file an application to close an existing public crossing. But the City doesn't have to ask for the closing of a crossing!!! (I don't usually use multiple exclamation marks, but they are deserved here.)
I phoned Rick Shankle, the Rail Division manager who deals with new crossing applications. He told me that nothing in state statute or rule requires that an old crossing be closed if a new crossing is opened. The City could have appealed the previous decision that required the closing of the State Street crossing if a Trade Street crossing was opened.
I'm pretty sure the City didn't do this. If the Rail Division were to make the same requirement again, and this is by no means certain or even likely, the City could appeal. The Rail Division doesn't have final authority over new railroad crossing applications. The state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court do.
So don't believe the Pringle Square developers when they say, "There will be no new crossing without closure of the State Street crossing to the Carousel and park." They can't provide evidence for this. I say this with 100% confidence, because they can't predict the future.
The only way to know whether approval of a new Front Street crossing would require closing of the State Street crossing is for the City of Salem to apply for one. This should be done. The proposal to take over part of the Carousel parking lot for access should be shelved.
Focus on Plan A, the developer's own original access proposal. It is much more feasible than Plan B, which will require a two-year or more process of applying to the National Park Service for a 6(f) conversion of Riverfront Park land.
The Environmental Impact Statement for that 6(f) application requires that other access alternatives have been considered and rejected. Without applying for a new Front Street railroad crossing, the City won't be able to demonstrate this has been done.
So all roads lead to a new railroad crossing application.
The City should get a big table and seat the affected parties around it: City staff, Pringle Square developers, Portland & Western Railroad officials, Carousel staff/volunteers, other informed members of the community.
They can figure this out. Pringle Square had a feasible access plan: a new railroad crossing. Plan A is the way. Taking over the Carousel parking lot is a very bad idea. This cartoon says it all.