This is a classic -- and oh, so Salem -- development story with David and Goliath overtones.
On one side we have a charming 35-student private school, the Heritage School, which set up shop on the old Fairview Training Center property in 2004, when the vision for the property's 275 acres hadn't yet been diluted.
So the folks who invested a lot of time, energy, and money into renovating a building on the Fairview property, anticipating that the surrounding acreage would be developed in accord with a Sustainable Fairview Master Plan, now are justifiably irked that Mountain West Investment Corporation plans to build a 180-unit cookie-cutter apartment complex directly across from the Heritage School.
Here's a PDF file of a January 4, 2018 letter from the Heritage School to the Salem Planning Commission that lays out the school's concerns about the Mountain West development. The screenshot below shows the conclusion of this testimony.
Download Heritage School Testimony PDF
Note that the Heritage School isn't opposed to Mountain West building an apartment complex on the Fairview property. The school just wants to have that complex developed in accord with the sustainable principles embodied in the original Fairview Master Plan and 2016 Refinement Plan. Read the school's testimony to the Planning Commission (link above) for details.
Recently I talked by phone with Wendi Warren Binford, a Willamette University Law School professor who co-signed the Heritage School testimony letter. One of her children graduated from the Heritage School, which offers classes in grades 1-8, and she has another child currently in 3rd grade.
Here's how she summarized the Mountain West apartment complex in a written message:
As for the development, it is comprised of 16 buildings, including 15 monolithic three-story apartment blocks on just nine acres. Their “pathways” repeatedly cut through parking lots, alleys, driveways, and streets. It is an extremely hostile concrete and asphalt environment to pedestrians, cyclists, and especially, to children.
Binford wanted to speak with me because I've written extensively about the Sustainable Fairview development. My wife and I owned shares in Sustainable Fairview Associates from 2003-2006, so I have firsthand knowledge of how the original vision for this property has steadily been eroded over the years.
I was told that three three-story apartment buildings are planned to be built directly across from the Heritage School, just 40 feet from the children. People in the apartments would look right into the school's windows.
"The school came to Fairview for the original vision," Binford said. "And the school has stayed true to the vision."
Unfortunately, the City of Salem has allowed repeated diminishing of that vision over the years through incorrectly named "refinement" plans for the Sustainable Fairview property. I say incorrectly, because the changes haven't really been refinements to the original vision, but wholesale alterations.
Back in 2012 Salem Weekly ran a story, "Master Plan. What Master Plan? The Lesson of Fairview Sustainable." It starts off with:
Salem took a leap of faith in 2008. It designated a special plot to have world-class qualities. “Sustainable Fairview” (near Reed and Battle Creek Roads) would be ‘green,’ innovative – energy efficient. The City wrote the recipe down in a Master Plan.
On August 13, 2012 Salem’s City Council chose to piss the Master Plan away. It voted to build 41.1 acres in a manner inconsistent with Plan requirements. The action was the latest in a series by Salem’s Planning Commission, city staff and City Council to rip up the promise of Fairview.
Some blame the developers: after all Simpson Hills LLC and AKS Engineering had a clear look at the Master Plan from the get-go. But we don’t demand developers be ethical, (though we should) because if we did, we’d all still have to construct our own houses with neighborhood “barn raisings.”
But the City of Salem – deserves our scorn. And maybe we too are guilty, for not holding it more accountable.
When, even after critique from “sustainable” quarters, the developer’s second proposal came in badly lacking, (it did not comply with a single of the original requirements, according to Morningside Neighborhood Association) – our city endorsed it. Planning Administrator Glen Gross recommended it; the Planning Commission approved it.
So here we go again. I don't believe the Mountain West apartment complex is part of the Simpson Hills property, but the same process is being followed in the plan review process -- which Binford told me requires 11 variances.
Supporters of Heritage School got a continuance of a Salem Planning Commission hearing until January 8.
Binford believes the Planning Commission will approve the apartment complex plan, but is more optimistic that, upon appeal, the City Council could modify that plan to make it both more in line with the original vision of Sustainable Fairview, and create fewer hardships for the Heritage School.
Earlier this month the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog had a post about the proposed Mountain West apartment complex. These comments were right-on.
On the 18th the Planning Commission will look at plans for what appears to be a cookie-cutter development of three-story walkup apartments with parking lots in the former Village Center area. It would be called "the Grove."
In 2016 a revision reduced much of the area for the Village Center, but still called it "Adaptive Use" zone (in red below). At this point, however, it sure doesn't look like the plan at hand "adapts" any building at all.
Without more information it's premature to pass much judgement, but on the surface it looks like a substantial dilution, or perhaps even erasure, of several of the key concepts for the Fairview project.
In the "Class 2 Adjustment" part there are 12 separate requests for adjustment. It's surprising a new Refinement Plan is not part of the current round of process, as the adjustments may very well be more than merely fiddling on the edges and constitute more substantial change, especially when they are considered as a totality and not severally. Those "incremental" adjustments add up.
Exactly. The Heritage School bought property at Fairview expecting that City officials would only allow development on the 275 acres that was consistent with the Sustainable Fairview Master Plan.
But there's been a steady reworking of the Master Plan, until now it's difficult to recognize anything truly "sustainable" in the proposed Mountain West apartment complex. A powerful developer such as the Mountain West Investment Corporation shouldn't be allowed to trample on the rights of a small educational institution like the Heritage School.
This is the David vs. Goliath ethical dilemma that the Salem City Council likely will have to wrestle with at some point.
I'm hoping David comes out on top, because this town has a long history of elevating the interests of developers over those of ordinary citizens, and this needs to stop, with a better balance between those competing interests being struck.