Robert K. McCarthy Answers Our Questions
Point Gentrification, Memorial Drive Housing, Future Footprint Development
Question 1 – The Point neighborhood has long been the starting point for Salem immigrants. The recent trend towards gentrification and the possible sale of the Shetland property have raised concerns as to how affordable the home prices and rental rates will be moving forward. What can the City do, what should the City do, to keep the housing in The Point affordable?
The Shetland complex just recently sold to a giant self-storage company from Texas. The previous owners (the Lappin family) had initiated the discussion of a potential zoning change to allow housing. The new owners have not shown any interest in housing and at this time intend to operate their facility under its current zoning. If in the future the new owners approach the City for a potential change, that would be the time to leverage a level of affordability on that site.
Gentrification is a factor in this and every neighborhood. As upgrades and improvements are made, people want to buy and invest and live in the neighborhood where they made the investment. The forthcoming inclusionary housing ordinance would be a tool to help mitigate gentrification, particularly if some future owner at Shetland did want to explore housing at that site.
The City needs to do what it can to allow diversity in the housing it is permitting to be built. There are needs across the housing spectrum.
Lack of availability and construction costs have driven up housing costs and rents across the City. I recently voted in favor of a special permit process for municipal and religious properties to allow a conversion to multi family housing. Increasing availability should help short term, but a more regional approach is needed. This is just not a problem unique to the Point or Salem. Continued partnerships with our nonprofits like the NSCDC go a long way in keeping affordable housing here and developing new units in the future.
Question 2 – The open space between Fort Avenue and Memorial Drive consists of Fort Lee and the area designated as 56 Memorial Drive. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board is looking at that land as a potential site for new housing. What are your thoughts on the proper use of that piece of Salem open space?
To be specific, the area in question is not Fort Lee. Fort Lee has its own restrictions that do not allow housing, it’s a Historical site.
I would love to see if the Fort Lee area could be cleaned up, its trails cleared and made an extension of the Willows Park. It would be a natural extension and enhance the whole area.
The parcel that has been identified by the Affordable Housing Trust is City owned land with no restrictions and zoned R-1. 70-80 years ago, house lots in this area were sold to veterans coming back from WWII.
The lots in 56 Memorial Drive area were deemed un-developable at that time. There is a lot of ledge up there and access is limited making any type of development difficult. The Trust is looking at all City owned land for housing opportunities. I personally believe the majority of this site will be left as is. The building site costs for construction on ledge would likely drive up the costs and make them unaffordable.
Question 3 – Footprint Power and the Salem Harbor Port Authority are beginning to look at how the 40+ acres of land remaining at Salem harbor Station will be redeveloped. Zoning changes will have to be made for there to be uses other than what the current industrial designation allows. How would you like to see this area utilized?
This site is complicated with a lot of moving parts.
First, we do not own the property and the owners could build any industrial use, in the zoning use table, on the site by right. We just closed a coal fired power plant and an oil tank farm, I think everyone is looking for a change away from heavy industrial uses on the bulk of that land.
Secondly, the site has a Designated Port Area (DPA) restriction. The restriction requires water dependent uses on the site. This is a state restriction because of the deep water channel and any modification to the area would require action at the state level. The area could be modified and downsized but some of the site would still have to have the restriction. When looking at a map of the site any maritime industrial uses would lend themselves to the area behind the new plant and closer to the SESD property.
The third factor is the deep water pier. Part of the Footprint Power plant permitting agreement was the creation of a Port Authority. The Port Authority has joint ownership of the pier and five acres of land to support pier related activities, like cargo ships and cruise ships. I am a member of the Port Authority and we are trying to figure out where and how the five acres will fit into the site.
Finally, it is not my decision to make alone. It is a community decision to see how we can engage the owners and come up with a plan that enhances the neighborhood and the waterfront. I look forward to working with everybody in trying to build consensus on shaping the property’s future.
If anyone is interested there was a study done and published in 2013 about possible reuse and development of the site.
If you go to salem.com and select Studies scroll down to the Footprint Salem Harbor Station and select the Sasaki Findings