Salem Should Keep Sustainable Fairview Vision Intact

A flawed proposal can sink a whole vision. That's the case in Salem, where a proposed multifamily housing development seeks to sidestep an innovative, sustainable plan that local residents developed several years ago. The proposal will soon go before City Council, and local advocates are urging the Council to stick to the vision already adopted.

When the City of Salem adopted the visionary Fairview Master Plan in 2005, it was the product of a community with big ideas. It proposed a livable, sustainable future that garnered praise locally and around the country for its creative and productive reuse of a unique large parcel in the middle of a city. “Salem may get used to seeing its name on magazine covers for some time,” crowed the Statesman-Journal editorial board at the time.

Just seven years later, the City has a decision to make: whether to keep to the vision and the potential of that citizen-created plan, or to follow a bland path that it will undoubtedly later regret. 1000 Friends of Oregon hopes the City will choose to stay on the course its citizens so boldly laid in the Fairview Master Plan.

On Monday, May 14, the Salem City Council will consider a so-called “Refinement Plan” that would allow one of the three major developers on the Fairview site to build a multi-family development that is remarkable only in its ordinariness, and in its surprising attempt to sidestep the Master Plan’s vision. The developers, Simpson Hills LLC, propose to omit many of the principles that were central to the Fairview Master Plan, while making dubious claims that its existing plan would meet some of the others.

Multifamily housing is a big part of the Fairview vision, but the vision is much bigger than ordinary apartment buildings. The Fairview Master Plan describes a livable, mixed-use community that incorporates sustainability in nearly every aspect of its design, from building materials to the handling of stormwater and energy, to providing excellent transportation options.

The nearby Pringle Creek Community, on a different portion of the Fairview site, is a faithful expression of that vision, and has been rightly praised for its accomplishments. But Simpson Hills, citing insufficiently proven constraints on its portion of the site, claims that many of these same principles should be set aside to build utterly indistinctive apartment housing that might be seen anywhere in the country.

Local neighborhood associations, businesspeople, and advocates reject the idea that Salem should embrace blandness and walk away from the community’s vision expressed in the Fairview Master Plan. 1000 Friends of Oregon agrees.

Quality matters. This site can only be developed once. If Salem gets this right, it will set the tone for its own future as a livable and sustainable place, and those magazine covers will keep coming, as will creative and talented residents who will help the city’s economy and culture thrive.

We have submitted our comments to Salem Mayor Anna Peterson and the Salem City Council, which you can download below. Our comments address several areas of concern in the proposed Refinement Plan, including:

  • Inadequate reuse of and retrofitting of existing structures from the Fairview site, as intended by Principle 3 of the Fairview Master Plan.
  • Poor interpretation of Principle 5 of the Master Plan, "Build innovative green buildings."
  • Virtually no innovative energy or waste systems, as intended by Principle 9 of the Fairview Master Plan.
  • Significantly inadequate facilities for runoff and stormwater handling, well below goals of Fairview Master Plan, which the project's own engineers admit may lead to runoff events in large storms, with no consideration of mitigation or justification as to why the project can't meet the Master Plan's goals.

The City of Salem should consider its current and future residents’ desires for Fairview, and the vision it has already adopted, and reject the Simpson Hills proposal.

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