Matt and Lisa Caswell, of Salem, take advantage of the nice weather to get out of the house and ride their bikes over the Union Street Railroad Bridge on Thursday, April 9. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem leaders want residents to walk, bike or take the bus more.

As the city updates its comprehensive plan, a process called Our Salem, it’s trying to address the need for more housing by creating new zoning that will allow for more apartment buildings that are situated along bus routes.

People can view and comment on the proposed zoning changes through an interactive map online until June 11. There’s also a survey asking for feedback on draft policies.

After the comment period closes, city staff will make changes to the policies and zoning map and present it to the community again before it goes before the Salem City Council. 

The zoning changes will make it easier to build much-needed multifamily housing, like apartments, townhomes or duplexes. The vision calls for areas to incorporate a broader mix of housing types throughout Salem.

One of the main changes on the comprehensive map is the proposed 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 and is intended to allow more flexibility in what can be built there.

The Salem City Council accepted the Our Salem vision in March, following more than a year of asking community members where they would like to see the city by 2035. Salem is expected to add another 60,000 residents in that time. The final plan is expected to go before the council for a formal adoption toward the end of the year.

Eunice Kim, Salem’s city planner, said after the council accepted the big picture vision two months ago, she moved ahead with the policies, zoning codes and maps that would make the ideas contained in the vision a reality.

The vision document states, “Salem is a livable, equitable, carbon neutral city where everyone has access to affordable housing and safe mobility choices, families and local businesses are thriving, diversity and culture is celebrated, and open spaces and the environment are valued and protected.”

Many of the comments on the proposed zoning map raised concerns about traffic and congestion in areas that are proposed for multifamily or mixed-use zoning.

“This proposed change would devalue our homes, bring about a huge increase in traffic as well as more opportunity for crime,” read one comment on a proposed multifamily zone near West Salem High School.

Kim said there’s “a lot of agreement in the community we need more housing but when it actually comes to siting where that housing will go that’s when we hear concerns.”

Kim said a portion of State Street, from 12th Street Northeast to 25th Street Northeast, is where the city first created mixed use zones in 2018.

The city is currently looking for funding to make improvements to the street so it’s more pedestrian friendly, she said, because “It’s not enough just to zone an area mixed use. You need infrastructure or financial investment.”

Salem can’t require businesses or housing developers to locate in the new mixed-use zones but hope by creating zoning that will allow them, the city will begin to have complete neighborhoods.

Those are neighborhoods that provide convenient access to jobs, services and amenities that meets residents’ daily needs.

The vision outlines 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.

Whether it will “happen in all of these proposed hubs is really going to depend on the market,” Kim said. 

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

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