City News

Salem would open more business areas to housing development under draft zoning plan

A construction crew works on the street outside of the Nishioka building site in downtown Salem on May 12, 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem city councilors and planning commission members got a glimpse into how the city is planning for its future Monday evening.

The group reviewed a draft comprehensive plan that will guide how Salem grows as it faces a housing crunch and adds tens of thousands of new residents in the next decade.


The plan presented Monday was the culmination of three years of work and more than 160 in-person and online community meetings and events where community members gave feedback on what they’d like to see in the city.

Housing was a key priority.  

The changes are supposed to make it easier to build much-needed multifamily housing, like apartments, townhomes or duplexes. The document is intended to be used by all Salemites when making decisions and recommendations on future development, infrastructure, parks, and climate change, among other issues.

“The Comprehensive Plan is intended for use by all those who have interest in future growth and development in the Salem urban area, including local officials, appointed committees and boards, neighborhood and community groups, developers, property owners, public agencies, businesses, and others,” the plan reads.

In March, the Salem City Council adopted the Our Salem vision, which outlined goals for how Salem should grow in the future.

The goals are divided into 10 categories ranging from economic development to transportation.


One of the main changes on the comprehensive map is the switch from commercial zoning to mixed use zoning along much of Southeast Commercial Street, Northeast Lancaster Drive and some of Portland Road. 

Mixed use is defined as a pedestrian friendly development that blends two or more residential, commercial, cultural, institutional or industrial uses. It’s intended to allow more flexibility in what can be built there.

Eunice Kim, long range planning manager, said the draft plan added 1,600 acres of land zoned mixed use, opening up more space to build housing. She said those areas are primarily situated along the Cherriots core network, routes that the bus service has committed to keeping. That includes routes on Northeast Lancaster Drive, Southeast Commercial Street, Northeast Center Street and State Street.

By allowing more homes along the bus route, the city hopes it will encourage people to ditch their cars. The city this week released its draft climate action plan intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through efforts like less driving.  

The comprehensive plan changes also call for increasing the minimum density for multifamily developments, up from 12 units per acre to 15. Kim said multifamily developments are typically building more than 15 units per acre, up to 21 units.

“The idea is that this would push a little, so that we get some middle housing. The whole point of it is to push to where we’re getting the type of housing that we would like as a community without breaking the system,” Kim told the members of the work session.

The plan outlined a concept called community hubs, or areas that have cafes, small groceries, or retail stores that are easily accessible to neighborhoods, so residents don’t have to travel as far to meet basic needs.

Kim said there was pushback on the siting of the hubs and the city reduced the number from 34 to 13 and will prohibit liquor and marijuana stores in those areas.

Some of the goals are focused on equity, ensuring that all Salem residents have access to opportunities and that the benefits of growth are shared, while recognizing and addressing historical disparities.

“Equity means all residents have the opportunity to participate and thrive in an inclusive society. This requires rectifying unequal access to resources and opportunities caused by historic and current systems of oppression and exclusion related to race, income, ability, gender, sexual identity, and other factors,” the plan reads.

Kim said equity wasn’t addressed in the previous comprehensive plan. The current draft is much more expansive than anything the city has had in the past, she said.

Salem is expected to add another 60,000 residents by 2035. It has become more diverse in the last decade, adding 10,000 new Hispanic residents, according to 2020 Census data. During that same time, the number of people identifying as two or more races more than doubled in both the city and Marion County.

Planning can help address equity issues like unequal tree canopy coverage. In Salem, the richer, whiter parts of town have more tree coverage which can reduce the urban heat island effect, lowering the temperature. That’s especially important as the city sees more record-setting hot days, like the deadly heat wave in June.

The Salem Area Comprehensive Plan was first adopted by Salem, Marion and Polk Counties in 1973. It was mostly recently updated in 2015.

No decisions were made during the work session. Kim said there will be public hearings on the comprehensive plan starting next year.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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