State Land an opportunity for Neighborhood

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Fourty seven acres of unique land in Northeast Salem are receiving keen attention from neighbors, the City and the State of Oregon.

“It’s definitely a major piece of real estate,” says Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, “something that doesn’t come along very often.  How it plays out is going to drive the future of that part of town for the next 100 years.”

At issue is the 47-acre parcel between Center and D Street, Park and 23rd St. that, for more than 100 years, was included in the Oregon State Hospital and called the “North Campus.”  The North Campus retains 6 major buildings from its hospital days, mature trees and significant open space.

After the last patients left the buildings in 2012, the State of Oregon determined the property was “surplus” and decided to sell it.  The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) hired firms to calculate what would give the state the best economic value, which was published in a report in 2013.  The state asked real estate developers to suggest their intentions by the end of January 2014.

Since that time, neighbors and the NESCA Neighborhood Association have become alarmed both by the DAS study and by the fact that only one developer has expressed interest.  In a June 2013 letter to Mayor Anna Peterson, NESCA said of the study, “alarmingly… instead of exploring how new development could enhance the neighborhood and address the community’s values, the report appears to focus on maximizing the potential sale price of the property by seeking the highest zoning density.”

Ward 1 City Councilor Chuck Bennett, who has attended numerous meetings on the matter, likes the study no better.  “I’m unimpressed by the entire study,” he says, “it missed the mark in a variety of areas, including livability impacts.”

Ian Johnson, NESCA Chairman, reports that the issue has mobilized the neighborhood; his meetings have been crowded with about 50 neighbors since October.  Ward 2 City Councilor Laura Tesler, who says she believes the property “needs to be a showplace of what good development could be,” has been a regular attendee.

NESCA has written the Legislature, Mayor and City Council, asking first, according to Johnson, that “elected officials take action to ensure a successful sale, and then addressing the development of the site.”

A positive outcome, in Tesler’s eyes, would include, “some degree of open space- as many trees as possible- a planned buffer between the development and existing homes- a development that fits the character of the neighborhood.”  Bennett would like to see, “redevelopment on a scale that adds to the neighborhood not overwhelm it and maintains maximum open space, preserves street trees and other trees on the property.”

NESCA has asked that the City and the Legislature work together with State of Oregon officials to make that happen.

Johnson calls Tesler the Mayor’s choice to “bird dog” the issue for the City Council.  He hopes for a meeting of the minds when NESCA representatives, Mayor Peterson and Councilors confer the second week of February.  NESCA’s hopes, he says, “center really around public process” and having a sense that neighbor’s wishes are an integral consideration moving forward.

Clem believes this is doable.  “When we think what has the most value to the property, it’s not necessarily what makes the most money.  I’m going to prioritize neighbors and livability over wringing the last penny out of the place.”

One Comment

  1. Laurie Dougherty says:

    While it’s important to take into consideration the sensibilities of neighboring residents, the State Hospital North Campus does not belong only to the immediate neighborhood. It’s also important to look at what makes sense for Salem and what makes sense in terms of sustainability. Here Salem is, talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a 3rd bridge so more people can live on the outer limits of West Salem, while on the North Campus we have a site ripe for redevelopment on 2 bus lines, with existing infrastructure in place, and not far from downtown, Willamette, the Capitol and state offices, Safeway and Lancaster Mall area – definitely in biking distance of all of the above, automobile trips are relatively short; and for some people, some of the above are in walking distance. With a careful mix of uses in the development, residents both within the site and in nearby neighborhoods could walk or bike to stores, restaurants and other service-oriented businesses there.

    It’s also important to look at what redevelopment of this site would mean for the 21st century sensibilities of people who want to live in a truly urban environment – young singles starting careers, families who value time together rather than a long commute, older people looking for convenience and smaller living quarters. The single family house on its own lot typical of the surrounding neighborhood is no longer the type of housing most in-demand. In People Habtitat: 25 Ways to Think About Green Cities, Kaid Benfield points to the changing composition of American families and households as the population ages, as young people marry later, and as families have fewer children. (Benfield is not the only one to point this out, but is the one whose book I happen to be reading now.) He also points out that, even without specifically green building features, the energy and resource efficiency of compact, mixed use transit-oriented development is greater than green buildings in conventional suburban developments. Rather than a “buffer” between tbe site and the existing neighborhood, there should be connections and transitions that scale up from single to multi-family residential units in order to accommodate various types of households.

    The magic of cities is in diversity – demographic and socioeconomic diversity to be sure, but also diversity in the built environment – variation in scale, in design, in what Benfield calls “the textures of historic architecture,” in the interaction of public spaces and private purposes, and in the interplay between natural and constructed features.

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