At next Monday's City Council meeting, Salem officials have a choice about whether to delay the proposed Pringle Square downtown riverfront development for one to two years (could be longer), or to allow it to move forward more expeditiously.
However -- this is important -- it is a Yes vote on the developer's access proposal that will result in the delay.
This will surprise proponents of the ill-considered plan being voted on Monday to allow the Pringle Square developer access via a takeover of part of the Salem Carousel parking lot.
Going that route, which will require National Park Service approval of a 6(f) conversion of Riverfront Park from the current public recreational use to a private use, will be time-consuming, complex, and expensive.
Other access alternatives, such as those described in a recent blog post, almost certainly would be better both for Minto View LLC/Mountain West Investment, developers of Pringle Square, and the people of Salem.
If the Statesman Journal publishes a draft editorial by Dick Hughes without making changes in accord with the facts I've learned, SJ staff should relinquish their Boy Scout Journalism merit badges.
This is part of the draft editorial that is completely off-base:
City staff approved the design review in February and the project site plan in March. Mountain West is ready to begin construction immediately, pending City Council approval of the access. However, Monday’s hearing was continued until Sept. 9.
The downside: Further delays — whether by postponing approval or placing unreasonable conditions on the developers — could jeopardize the entire project. Site work must be completed before winter rains arrive. Furthermore, the current sluggish economy, with its lower construction costs and low-interest rates for financing, make this an optimal time for the project.
Actually, city approval of the Carousel parking lot access would trigger a one to two year delay in the Pringle Square project. Below is an email message that I sent recently to City of Salem officials and Statesman Journal newspaper staff.
I just had a highly informative phone conversation with Michele Salise, the Land and Water Conservation Fund grant coordinator with the State Parks and Recreation Department. She would be the point person for reviewing a 6(f) conversion application for Riverfront Park, should the City Council approve this process moving forward at next Monday's council meeting.
Here's what she told me, which goes against much of what is being implied -- or outright claimed -- by people who favor the conversion of the Carousel parking lot into an access road to the Pringle Square apartment complex.
(1) This would be a "regular" rather than a "small" conversion application, in part because it is controversial.
(2) A regular 6(f) conversion application of property from public recreational use to a different use takes at least a year to process. Two years is the average. An application filed in 2010 is still being processed by the state and National Park Service.
(3) Naturally the developer would not be able to use any part of Riverfront Park for access to Pringle Square until a 6(f) application is approved by the National Park Service. Again, this would take one to two years at least.
(4) A full NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) environmental assessment would have to be prepared by the City. For those unfamiliar with NEPA, check out Wikipedia:
(5) The assessment would have to describe what alternatives to Carousel parking lot access were considered, and why those alternatives were rejected (such as a new railroad crossing on Pringle Square land). This is no simple task. Merely saying "we didn't think this would work" isn't enough.
(6) Cost of the NEPA review and other expenses associated with the 6(f) application would be the responsibility of the City of Salem. This isn't cheap. When I mentioned that a new RR crossing could cost $500,000, Ms. Salise said "that isn't much." In comparison with the cost of a 6(f) conversion, was the evident implication.
(7) Appeals of the National Park Service decision on the 6(f) application are possible. Ms. Salise wasn't sure what this entails. My Googling indicates that federal courts, not surprisingly, are where appeals end up at some point.
I wanted to get this information out as soon as possible, because it is so cogent to the decision that the City Council will be making next Monday.
Proponents of the Carousel parking lot access option mistakenly claim that this will allow development of the Pringle Square property to occur almost immediately. Not true. Going this route will take 1-2 years before a decision is made on a 6(f) application. Likely applying for a new public railroad crossing would be considerably quicker and less expensive.
Food for thought.