A long time ago I was a self identified “neighborhood activist.” That meant, among other things, that I pushed hard for more investment in the neighborhoods I championed. In my case, the neighborhoods I cared about most were Beacon Hill and South Park. And I just happened to have cause to be in the ‘hood today which gives me a perfect hook for Chapter 23.51 A and B, because more public facilities and school improvements were exactly the kinds of investments we pushed hard for. I have to break this up into two posts.
First, let’s look at 23.51A Public Facilities. In the heart of the public facilities section of the code is one of those paragraphs that can make your head spin because of the numerous references in it.
Except as provided in subsections B, D and E of this Section 23.51A.002, uses in public facilities that are most similar to uses permitted outright or permitted as an administrative conditional use under Chapter 23.44 are also permitted outright or as an administrative conditional use, subject to the same use regulations, development standards and administrative conditional use criteria that govern the similar use. The City Council may waive or modify applicable development standards or administrative conditional use criteria according to the provisions of Chapter 23.76, Subchapter III, Council Land Use Decisions, with public projects considered as Type IV quasi-judicial decisions and City facilities considered as Type V legislative decisions
Let’s untangle that.
Anything that is a public facility that is like other uses in a residential zone is permitted outright. It’s hard to think of one, but that would be a public facility that conformed to, say, single family development standards.
More often, though, such uses are going to be very different from the kinds of standard envelope that a single family or multifamily building would fit into. When we’re talking about public facilities we’re usually talking about a:
Police precinct station;
Public boat moorage;
Utility services use; and
Other similar use
I’m struggling to remember whether public libraries fall into this category.
Usually, then, uses like a fire station or library end up going through something called a Type V process, which is a legislative approval. This is in contrast to public facilities that are not City projects, which have to go through quasi-judicial approval or a Type IV process.
It would be a huge distraction to get into Type IV versus Type V decisions of Council on land use decisions. I will get to it. But for now, it’s enough to say that the City can approve City facilities through the regular legislative process if those facilities have uses that stretch the building envelope standards.
Sewage plants are one of the kinds of uses that don’t fit here. The code sets those aside.
The expansion or reconfiguration (which term shall include reconstruction, redevelopment, relocation on the site, or intensification of treatment capacity) of existing sewage treatment plants in single-family zones may be permitted if there is no feasible alternative location in a zone where the use is permitted and the conditions imposed under subsections 23.51A.002.D.3 and D4 are met.
I’m not going to go into what those conditions are, but it’s probably safe to say that most of us don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about sewage plant moving in next door. And there are some things that simply aren’t allowed in single family neighborhoods:
Metro operating bases;
Park and ride lots;
Establishment of new sewage treatment plants;
Solid waste transfer stations;
Animal control shelters;
Post Office distribution centers; and
Frankly, I like the idea of a Municipal Correctional Center, Animal Shelter, and Sewage Treatment Plant in a single family neighborhood, especially if it’s located in Laurelhurst and Magnolia. Better yet the Maple Leaf Regional Waste and Recycling Transfer Station and Work Release Program. I’ll have to work on that legislation.
When it comes to public facilities there are a couple more notes to make. One is that there are also major institutions like colleges, universities, and hospitals that are covered elsewhere in the code.
More importantly, all of these uses create huge conflicts but are necessary to the smooth running of a city. Often these land use issues can end up becoming hugely controversial not so much because people don’t believe we need the use, but rather where to put the use. What’s fair and not fair? What is an appropriate off-setting public benefit that a neighborhood should get for accommodating these uses?
And, politically, how do we avoid parking all these things in places where a largely disenfranchised community doesn’t have political clout? Neighbors battled long and hard against lots of institutional skepticism to get a library in South Park. And a fire station is a nice thing to have close by. But who’s going to battle for a utility service or a jail?