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Citizens Resist Developers’ Plan

Salem City Council is scheduled to decide on September 9 whether or not to grant access to a downtown 118-apartment complex through the Riverfront Park Carousel parking lot.

In anticipation, citizens have taken to the streets and the Internet to voice their opposition, to lobby the City Council in writing, and to urge that the developer’s application be denied.

Hazel Patton, a community volunteer who is called Salem’s “founder of the Carousel,” says her primary objections to the Carousel lot being used as access, are congestion and danger to people.

“Bringing over 870 vehicles per day through the entrance to the carousel… poses a huge safety concern.  For not only the Carousel visitors, but those going to the playground, amphitheater, new Minto Bridge or just wanting to walk through that end of the Park,” she says.

Patton and a group of volunteers were out  over the Labor Day weekend, collecting the signatures of Riverfront Park users who agreed that granting the access would endanger citizens.

The reconfiguration of the parking lot to serve the developer “is unacceptable” to the Carousel Board, says Betty O’Brien, Chairman of the volunteer Board of Directors for the Salem Waterfront Carousel.

“The increased number of cars turning on and off of Front Street/Highway 22 would vastly increase congestion,” around Salem’s seminal park, she maintains, “frustrating Carousel and other park users, apartment residents, and those simply trying to travel on that street.

O’Brien is proud of the Carousel’s heritage and its importance to area residents.  “The Carousel opened a dozen years ago, having been created through thousands of hours of time and talent donated by craftsmen, artists and other community members”.

“The Carousel has become a major tourist draw for Salem,” O’Brien says.  “It helps create a critical mass of entertainment for children that enhances Riverfront Park and brings life and vitality” to the Salem experience.
Although O’Brien and the Carousel board support development of the former Boise Cascade property, their concerns for “safety of children and families” mean they cannot endorse access through the lot.

A new site has sprung up on the Internet, pringlesquareaccess.com, with detailed plans describing safe, less intrusive alternatives to the one the developer, Larry Tokarski, has asked for.  Salem architect Geoffrey James has contacted the City Council separately with similar strategies.  James says that an alternative that doesn’t require re-striping and scaling down the Carousel lot “is a better option for the people of Salem.”

Elaine Sanchez is one of the volunteers who helped bring the Carousel into being.  She has authored two children’s books about the Salem institution and, with her husband, takes her grandchildren to visit frequently.

Recently Sanchez examined the site plans put out by the developer at pringlesquaresalem.com.  “Once we realized what was happening, we felt extremely alarmed and upset,” she says.  Her epiphany “came from looking past the beautiful illustrations and comparing the drawings to the actual physical site.”

The reality of a frequently-cramped parking lot filled with walking children and circling cars – many of whom leave because there are not enough spaces – is in stark contrast to the serene presentation on the brochures.

“In [Tokarski’s] water color illustration they show one car in the parking lot – a Mini Cooper,” Sanchez says, “Isn’t that a hoot?”  More typical family vehicles are minivans, SUV’s and two-seated pickups.

The developer’s plans involve reducing the size of the parking lot by 30% – while adding 7 new spots.  This mathematical feat would be accomplished making nearly half the spaces smaller and removing the center island – which currently serves as a safety refuge for parents, children and pets.  O’Brien says the new compact spaces, “ a full foot narrower and also shorter,” would make it “more difficult and dangerous” for visitors to enter and exit cars.

The first City Council meeting on the issue, August 26th, was a packed full house; more than twenty people were left standing.  Both sides of the issue appeared to be present in equal numbers, and since then, supporters of the developer have been as active advocating on his behalf, too.

Sanchez compares the volunteers she works with to these proponents, saying, “The developers are doing it on a grander scale.  They have a lot more money and a hired staff.  I heard at a major real estate firm that all the realtors had received emails instructing them to write to the councilors in favor of access.”

Sanchez says that she and others who oppose Carousel lot access have the upmost respect for the developer.  “I would like to say that I have blessed Larry Tokarski’s name a thousand times,” she says. “He has done many, many wonderful things in this community.  I want to support him, but I cannot do that blindly.  He’s a good man, but this is not a good plan for Salem.”

Opponents will gather at the Carousel at 5:30 Thursday, September 4th to organize signature gathering and outreach to City Council.

On August 26th, the City Council voted to approve a 10-year tax approval for the Tokarski project.  If Carousel-parking-lot access is approved on September 9, this tax abatement will go into effect.

Salem City
Council meeting
September 9, 2013

6:30 – 10 p.m.
555 Liberty Street SE
Council Chambers, Room 240

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