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 origianal requirements, according to Morningside Neighborhood Association) – our city endorsed it. Planning Administrator Glen Gross recommended it; the Planning Commission approved it.
It must have been awkward when inconvenient voices interrupted the love-fest between city and developer. Morningside, Sustainable Fairview Associates and Pringle Creek Watershed Council, green advocates all, were bewildered and said so. Because they expected – silly them – some compliance with that pesky Master Plan.
So the developers held meetings “with the public” at hours few regular working people could attend. They “conferred” with a city staff that had already supported them when their plans were not green at all.
City Council meetings are great entertainment for TV or computer. You can go back and forth, studying every minute. This time, frankly, we began to worry the minute Vickie Hardin-Woods, the City’s Community Development Director, “set the stage” (her term) by declaring the Master Plan “full of words, full of directions; probably impossible to meet…”
We had to listen to that part twice.
Hardin-Woods was the first to laud the developer’s efforts to accommodate feedback. If you had to pay a nickel for every pat on the back Simpson Hills and AKS got that night, you’d be out a meal at a fancy restaurant.
Chris Goodell, representing AKS, was unembarrassed by the praise. He burst from the gate congratulating his firm for its “intense series of meetings.” He described the result as “a new beginning for the City of Salem.”
What ‘new beginning,’ you ask?
* 10% more energy efficient than code. As James Santana (Morningside) wrote in protest, “This is not innovative… it’s insignificant.”
* No innovative green buildings (required by there Plan)
* Stormwater management that is, Santana says, just “like any other large subdivision.”
* A “level” of green certification by Earth Advantage, a Portland company who gives ratings somewhat like the LEED program. Councilor Bennett (Ward 1) enquired about the ‘gold’ rating Goodell said AKS expected. Bennett asked if ‘gold’ was the highest ranking.
Goodell paused. “I think they have ‘platinum,’” he said, “I’m not sure.”
First of all it should be mentioned that Earth Advantage is considered “local and not widely recognized or respected, even here in Oregon amongst sustainability professionals,” according to Santana. And, from what we saw, they can be slippery!
Peter Brown, Earth Advantage employee, jumped to rescue Goodell and say his company had three rankings; ‘silver,’ ‘gold’ and ‘platinum.’ ‘Platinum,’ not ‘gold,’ is the highest. But Brown couldn’t quite explain the difference. And when asked if there was, at least, a ‘significant’ difference between the rankings of his own company, Brown was cautious.
“It’s hard to say, ‘significant,’” he said.
Sam Hall of Sustainable Fairview had a better grasp of the levels than Brown himself. (Perhaps he’d read more closely?) “Roughly speaking,” Hall said, “Perfect is 150, ‘Platinum’ is 80% of that.”
“‘Gold’ is… less than 2/3 of perfect… “ Hall concluded. “Gold is not that hard.”
When Councilor Nanke (Ward 3) pressed Brown for details on the difference between ‘silver’ and ‘gold,’ Brown said the difference was “a little tough” to quantify. He couldn’t even state the rating Fairview would get. “It’s too early to tell,” he said.
The guy commits to nothing.
Nanke made two plays to save Fairview, and got shot down both times.
First, he wanted his constituents (Fairview is in his ward) and “major property owners” to have time to review the proposal. He asked the Council to wait till the next meeting (August 27) before voting.
It’s amusing to watch Nanke try to make his motion over Mayor Anna Peterson’s clear displeasure. Check out his efforts on the CCTV recording and then, at 1h11min47seconds, see him get blocked; he pauses and Peterson interrupts, “Yes, let’s take a short break. We need to have a little discussion.”
When “intermission” ended – Nanke no longer wanted his motion.
Second, Nanke asked the proposal to specify that buildings meet at least Earth Advantage’s ‘gold.’ That’s only 60% of ‘perfect’ for a development that’s supposed to be nationally recognized.
Bennett said, “I would never have imposed these requests on a developer… [but] the Master Plan… still covers the entire piece of property.”
“At least ‘gold’ is not at the bottom,” Nanke said, “for something that was supposed to be something great.”
The following disagreed with him:
* Councilor Clem (Ward 8): “At the ‘12th hour’ we shouldn’t make ‘gold’ standard requirement.”
* Ward 7’s Blasi: “When I think of sustainable Fairview it looks like what they brought here… It’s unfair; it’s ‘12th hour’ to say ‘we want it exactly like this.’”
* Councilor Dickey (Ward 5): “I would be happy if it would have at least some green building certification.”
* Mayor Peterson: “For us to sit here and say, ‘you’re going to have to build that to a gold standard’ is to say to that developer, ‘forget your bottom line, forget your funding, you’re going to have to do it this way.’”
And so Nanke’s second bid was dismissed.
Then, over Nanke’s and Bennett’s objections, the Council approved Simpson Hills’ plan.
The result? A development that’s standard in an area that was supposed to be outstanding. Because the city – from Planning Commission to planning staff to City Council – sold Fairview out.
And, the lesson? Our City just might not always represent We, the People. And if that’s true, what responsibility do we each have to fix that?